House tour: The secret Paris apartment of Madame de Florian

10 Jan

The story of Madame de Florian’s home seems almost too far-fetched to be true, but the discovery of her glamorous Paris apartment – which has been locked behind closed doors since 1942 – is evidence of a life and style too fabulous to be fiction.

Paris apartment of Madame de Florian time capsule

Abandoned Paris apartment of Madame de Florian

taxidermy in Paris apartment of Madame de Florian

Paris apartment of socialite Madame de Florian 1942

Portrait of Marthe de Florian by Giovanni Boldini

{Getty images via AnOther}

The apartment belonged to Marthe de Florian, an actress and socialite who lived in swirl of fine gowns and love affairs with important men, from Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau to painter Giovanni Boldini, who captured her beauty in the radiant portrait above. She lived in this decadent apartment on the Right Bank with her own portrait in pride of place until she died, leaving her home to her grandaughter, Madame de Florian.

In 1942 at the age of 23, Madame de Florian was forced to flee Paris as the German troops drew ever nearer. She locked the doors and moved to the South of France, never to return, although she continued to pay her service charges until her death at the age of 91. It wasn’t until 2010 that auctioneers opened the doors to the apartment once again and discovered the incredible time capsule that lay gathering dust inside.

Amongst the elegant carved furniture, moth-eaten silks and dulled cut crystal the auctioneer came across Marthe de Florian’s portrait alongside ribbon-bound love letters that confirmed the identity of both the artist and subject, who was only 24 when it was painted. The painting recently sold for an astonishing €2.1 million… the apartment however remains in the hands of the de Florian estate, back behind closed doors and just as it was the day Madame de Florian left.

Ps – If this apartment captivates you too, you must visit Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate Street. It’s the closest you’ll get to the magic of an abandoned home.

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In the press: Country Living

9 Jan

I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to spot not one, not two, but THREE Decorator’s Notebook products in Country Living magazine this month!

Country Living Feb 14 Cover

Decorator's Notebook in Country Living 1

Decorator's Notebook in Country Living 2

Decorator's Notebook in Country Living 3

{Styling Ben Kendrick / Photographs Catherine Gratwicke for Country Living}

The feature is just gorgeous – full of warm colours and rustic textures and the whole vibe suits our products perfectly. It’s so strange being on the other side of the fence and realising just how much the magazine features I used to compile month in, month out actually meant to the small business owners I featured. It’s such a kick to see Decorator’s Notebook products in print!

Decorator's Notebook products in Country Living Magazine

Wait! 5 ways to decorate with fairy lights all year round

6 Jan

As soon as the decorations come down on Twelfth Night it always seems to me that a previously homely house looks suddenly bare. It’s just too depressing! So whilst I don’t suggest we become strange Christmas people who never take down their tree and eat turkey 365 days of the year, I am going to wriggle free from the grip of superstition just a little by offering a few mildly rebellious ideas to enjoy the magical twinkle of fairy lights in your home, whatever the season. Will you join me?

Fairy lights over bed curtains

{via we Heart It}

four poster bed with fairy lights

{Photograph: Leela Cyd}

photographs clipped onto fairy lights

{via PB Teen}

Single string of fairy lights

{Photograph: Jeska Hearne}

workspace office with fairylights

{Photograph: Michelle Halford}

I’m also considering rebranding my Christmas wreath as “winter wreath” to avoid taking it down… or perhaps that’s a step to far?

Composure: my word for 2014

2 Jan

word for 2014 composure

{Photograph: Forever Amber}

If there was one word to retrospectively describe my 2013 it would be ‘flux’.

So much changed for me last year that at times my little feet barely touched the ground. Joe and I set off on our entrepreneurial journey and finally shared our plans for the Decorator’s Notebook shop at the Somerset House showcase in March. In the summer I left my career as an interiors journalist, sold my flat and moved away from my friends in London to the Westcountry to launch our new business in October. Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the amazing encouragement we’ve received and delighted, puzzled, challenged and overjoyed in equal measure.

Just like the best white knuckle rides, 2013 has left me exhilarated, visibly shaken and desperate to go back for more!

Since we are still only a few months into our new business venture I’m in no doubt that 2014 is going to hold similar thrills, so as much as I’d like to choose ‘settled’ or ‘content’ for my word of the year, the realist in me knows I need to opt for something a little more achievable.

That’s why I’ve selected this one: COMPOSURE.

A word that will remind me to breathe and take a measured approach to the decisions I’m likely to face. A word to help me look for the opportunity in a situation rather than feel daunted by it. A word that will encourage me to stay level-headed even while my feet frantically paddle beneath the surface.

Or so I hope… of course only time will tell but I am writing my word nice and big in places I will see daily.

Have you chosen a word for 2014 and what do you hope it will help you achieve this year?

Last-minute shoppers welcome!

19 Dec

We know all too well what it’s like to cram in all your online shopping in time for the last post, so at Decorator’s Notebook all Express Delivery orders received by 12 noon on Friday 20th are guaranteed to arrive before Christmas to UK mainland addresses… phew!

Here are just a few of the lovely present ideas you’ll find to choose from…

Christmas gifts for her from Decorator's Notebook

Christmas gifts for him Decorator's Notebook

{© Decorator’s Notebook Shop}

Our shelves are brimming with quirky, individual gift ideas ranging from stocking fillers for under £10 to luxurious Welsh blankets for £230. Thank you to all of our lovely customers who have supported our new venture! Visit us at www.decoratorsnotebook.co.uk.

Homemade Christmas wreath with a contemporary twist

18 Dec

Homemade Christmas wreath with eucalyptus DIY

Homemade Christmas door wreath contemporary foliage

{© Decorator’s Notebook}

I absolutely LOVE Christmas – not so much for the day itself but for those leading up to it. The little rituals mean so much to me: choosing the tree, making the cake, planning how I’ll decorate the table and waiting excitedly for everyone to arrive. And now this year I have a pretty homemade wreath on the door to greet them!

On Sunday Lou arranged a tasty lunch and a crafty afternoon for a handful of Westcountry bloggers and kindly invited me along as a newcomer to the group. My little network of blogging friends is one of the few things I do actually miss about London, so it was lovely to meet some kindred spirits in my new/old area. Xanthe from Ivory Flowers supplied us with a beautiful array of foliage and decorations to use and we had spent a relaxing afternoon chatting while binding clumps of earth-scented moss, lush pine, orange slices and dried flowers onto our wreaths. With such a fantastic array of ingredients to choose from it was fun seeing all the finished results… I opted for a bit of contemporary style using eucalyptus, cheerful billy buttons, cotton heads and cinnamon sticks.

Now every time I arrive home I have a reminder of a lovely afternoon and a special welcome for our Christmas visitors!

For more ideas, visit my fellow bloggers and admire the beautiful wreaths they created too: Lou at Littlegreenshed | Lottie at Oyster & Pearl | Cathy at Bristol Parenting Cafe | Kat at Housewife Confidential | Laura at Circle of Pine Trees | Natalie at Thistle Apples

Our gingerbread tags in Sunday Times Style!

17 Dec

Hope you’ve enjoyed having a go at your own gingerbread tags and garlands… I’ve just got my hands on the page in Sunday Times Style where they were featured so thought I’d pop it up here so you can have a look!

Decorator's Notebook in Sunday Times Style

Decorator's Notebook featured in Sunday Times Style

{© Sunday Times Style}

Homemade gingerbread gift tags & garlands

15 Dec

Welcome to everyone joining us today from Sunday Times Style – it’s lovely to have you here!

I was thrilled to be invited to put together an idea for their Christmas gift wrap feature this weekend. These edible gingerbread tags start giving before your gift has even been opened – a definite bonus! If you fancy trying these sweet little biscuits for yourself, here’s the recipe and instructions you’ll need:

Gingerbread gift tags Decorator's Notebook blog recipe

Decorator's Notebook gingerbread cookies recipe

Gingerbread gift tags for Sunday Times Style by Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook gingerbread garland

{Photographs © Decorator’s Notebook}

Gingerbread Biscuits

It took quite a bit of experimentation to work out the recipe for perfect gingerbread biscuits that hold their shape when baked and taste delicious too. Thank you to Emily at Maid of Gingerbread for the tips!

100g butter
100g soft brown sugar
3 tbs treacle
1 tbs golden syrup
140g plain flour
140g self raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground mixed spice
 

1) Preheat the oven to 180°c / Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2) Place the butter, treacle, syrup and sugar in a small pan and warm gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Meanwhile, sift the flour and spices into a mixing bowl.

3) Add the contents of the pan to the dry ingredients and mix well. Once combined, kneed gently to form a smooth, stiff ball of dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

4) Roll out the dough to 2mm thick on a floured surface and cut out the shapes using your favourite cutter. Use a straw to make two holes in the centre of each biscuit then transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used.

5) Bake for 8-12 minutes until golden brown. Keep a close eye on them as the cooking time will depend on the size of the cutter you used. Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight container.

Makes about 32 biscuits

Gingerbread recipe Decorator's Notebook blog

[click the image above to enlarge and save]

gingerbread gift tags and garland recipe Decorator's Notebook

{Photographs and recipe © Decorator’s Notebook}

Once you’ve made your gingerbread men there’s a host of ways you can use them… tying them onto Christmas presents is just the start!

  • Thread a row along a length of pretty ribbon and hang along the mantlepiece (not too close to the fire!)
  • Make one hole in the top of the biscuits instead of two and pop them on your tree
  • Tie around napkins as an extra treat on the table
  • Get the kids decorating them with tubes of icing to give to their friends and teachers

Have fun and thank you for visiting our blog… you’ll find lots more Christmas craft and decorating ideas here and please do have a look at the Decorator’s Notebook Shop for gorgeous gifts to wrap inside your parcels and luxury ribbons for the perfect finishing touch!

Decorator's Notebook Shop www decoratorsnotebook.co.uk

DIY: air drying clay Christmas tree decorations

13 Dec

I just love DAS clay… a couple of years ago I used it to make these simple clay tree decorations and this week we had a go at some more using different rubber stamps to create an embossed effect.

DAS clay Christmas tree decoration DIY LR

Air drying clay Christmas decorations LR

DAS clay snowflake Christmas tree decoration LR

{Decorator’s Notebook}

For those who haven’t used it before, DAS air-drying clay can be rolled and moulded like salt dough but dries to an off white ceramic finish. A big 1kg block costs under £5 from Amazon or local craft shops. We used about a third of  packet to make about 25 decorations.

Air Drying Clay Christmas Tree Decorations

1) Slice off about one third of a 1kg block of DAS air drying clay. Seal the remainder quickly in the packet as it soon dries out.

2) Roll out the clay to about 1.5mm thick on a smooth surface. Cut out shapes using a range of biscuit cutters – we chose snowflakes and hearts but anything festive will do… play around with the different ones you have cutting positive and negative shapes and various sizes.

3) Working quickly before the clay dries, emboss the decorations using rubber stamps or found materials like lace and hessian. Anything you can find with a pretty textures surface will work nicely.

4) Use the plastic casing of a biro to cut a small hanging hole in the top of each shape for hanging.

5) Leave until the clay is leather hard, then gently lift the decorations from your worksurface and transfer to a warm dry place to dry out. These are thin so will only take a few hours. They’ll harden up and lighten in colour when they’re dry.

6) Thread with twine or ribbon and they’re ready to hang on the tree!

These are really simple and certainly easy enough to try with the kids this weekend. Don’t forget to share the results with us on Instagram / Twitter / Pinterest @DecoratorsNotes or on our Facebook page.

Meet the maker: Basha kantha blankets

10 Dec

The stories our makers share are always inspiring, but the story of Basha – the organisation that makes our beautiful new Kantha Bedspreads – is so powerful that it actually took my breath away. Last week I interviewed Robin Seyfert, Basha’s founder, to find out more about the lives of the women she employs and the change that investing in one of their blankets can bring.

Kanthas handmade in Bangladesh Decorator's Notebook

What is Basha and how did you come to found it?

Basha is a social enterprise based in Bangladesh which provides long term employment to women at risk and survivors of trafficking. I came here in 2006 with the Mennonite Central Committee to promote HIV awareness and met many women working as prostitutes. I was shocked at how the overwhelming majority had been sold, coerced, or forced into sex work. You hear so much about cross-border trafficking but here it was happening right in the heart of their own community.  They were so painfully ashamed of their lives and desperate for options.

We started a job training program which provided women with a stipend to stay out of prostitution and to develop work skills for one year. We accepted 26 women, expecting half to drop out, but all 26 completed and went on to work for MCC projects. However, while it became clear that candidates were without limit, appropriate employment opportunities at the end of their training were sparse.  When I finished my MCC contract, I spent six months preparing to open Basha in May 2011 with 15 women and now employ 50.

kantha stitching blanket Basha Decorator's Notebook

Can you share some of the stories you hear from women you work with?

Vulnerability is the common theme – being poor, widowed, orphaned, abandoned – followed by someone stepping in to ‘help’ who leads them into lives with deep shame and little hope of redemption. In Bangladesh, once someone’s reputation is compromised, she is considered ‘ruined’ in the eyes of society and it is very difficult to be accepted again.  Here are a couple examples [names have been changed]:

“Madiha” was abused in her village when she was about 13 years old and after an aborted pregnancy, followed a neighbour to Dhaka to work in a garment factory.  After three months work, yet receiving no salary, she went to the Mazar (a religious site where many vulnerable people go for refuge) where she was approached and offered domestic work. Instead, was taken to brothel and sold. She was there for five months until a client helped her escape over the wall, but her family rejected her. Alone in Dhaka, she became a floating sex worker until she was imprisoned in a vagrants home for two years. Now Madiha is just completing her training and recently started to sew at Basha.

“Joya” married when she was young and gave birth to a son, but two years later her husband died. She married again but her second husband beat her and didn’t support her family. Joya started cooking at a house where several men lived, but the men there abused her and she was eventually led into prostitution. Joya’s son drowned when he was six years old but she continues to work hard to improve life for her two daughters. Joya wants her to get a good education so that she can support herself even if she marries a poor man. She would like to move to Basha’s new office with her youngest daughter when it opens next year.

handmade kantha blankets from Decorator's Notebook by Basha uk

How do women make the transition from the streets to a job at Basha?

Basha partners with two training programs that provide a year or more of rehabilitation and training. Pobitra primarily targets women in street based prostitution and the Children’s Uplift Programme works with mothers living on the streets. Both programmes provide financial support which allows the women to find suitable housing and walk away from their pimps or brokers. They receive counselling, literacy training, life skill development, and support to get their children into education. Once their lives have stabilised they are interviewed by Basha and begin work here for a few hours each week, until they eventually become full time.

Employing women recovering from such difficult lives must present challenges day-to-day?

It’s difficult to find a balance between being sensitive to the women who are still recovering and continue to face huge challenges, and yet also helping them rise above their past. Some women face abuse from their husbands and come to work in pain, while others struggle with depression or angry outbursts. We try to instill in them a sense of ownership in Basha and encourage them into leadership roles, so they aspire to new heights, for themselves and their children.

How do the women feel about making such a dramatic change?

One of my favourite responses is when they reach out to help others out of bad situations. We brought a woman off the streets once who had suffered a mental breakdown. She kicked her colleagues, spat on them, interrupted their work, but they stuck by her until she recovered. They continue to bring in others to the training programmes and have they found several who were in the process of being trafficked, taking women and children into their homes until they could get help. One of my biggest dreams is for them to be lights in their communities, so when I see these things, I’m most proud of them.

Kantha blankets from Decorator's Notebook made by women from Basha

Describe a typical day at Basha…

The women drop their children off at daycare and start the morning with a prayer. Everyone then gets busy with their work until they have snacks around 10am.  They have classes between 11-12am where they continue their Bangla literacy training, learn basic English, life skills, health education, and other topics. They go to the daycare and feed their children at lunchtime and there’s another break in the afternoon to do some stretching exercises. The day finishes at 5pm and they can do some work at home as well to increase their income.

child attending Basha daycare

How does the working environment at Basha differ from other places women might be employed in Dhaka?

Basha’s aim is to run more like a cooperative, so from the first day they arrive, women are told that Basha is our business; not the shareholders’ or directors’. Each person is responsible for making it work and we all have our part to play. We keep managers’ salaries at a reasonable ratio to those in production and pay a day rate for attendance plus a piece rate for each kantha they make. As women learn to work faster, they receive higher wages and almost all the earn well over the local minimum wage: some earn as much as a manager would in a garment factory. Last year we made a profit for the first time and all the women working in production received a share.

While the women are working we provide full-time daycare for all their children, support their schooling and provide food supplements throughout the day. We pay 75% of their medical expenses and in a few cases, provide psychiatric care too. Women are paid to participate in classes and counselling so they are not stressed about lost wages as they take part. The women here never have to worry about working in a dangerous place, being mistreated, not receiving their pay or working abusive hours, which are all too common in the local garments industry.

Kantha blankets made by Basha at Decorator's Notebook uk

Tell us a little about the kantha tradition and why you chose this product to make at Basha?

Kantha is a long tradition of stitching layers of discarded sari cloth together to create a blanket. Bangladeshis use these to wrap newborns, to cover a bed, to provide warmth in the winter, and so many other uses. It’s such a humble item of day-to-day life here, most Bangladeshis are surprised by the broad appeal internationally. We also realised it was a good product for our employees to make as it is familiar to them, even though they probably hadn’t made them to our standards and specifications before coming to Basha. The picture of something beautiful being created from something previously discarded also symbolises the change we see in women’s lives so perfectly.

How is a kantha blanket made?

Saris are purchased, washed, and matched with a coordinating sari.  A double kantha, such as Decorator’s Notebook sells, takes about 47 hours to make by hand. The cloth is cut and machine stitched side by side, then layered and held tautly with bricks on the corners. The edges are basted by hand while they are still stretched by the bricks. The women then start stitching the neat careful rows, also all by hand and finally they attach a label embroidered with their name. They are really proud of the work they do and that the products they make are going all over the world.

Kantha blankets uk Decorator's Notebook

What are your hopes for the future?

Basha currently has a steady stream of new women joining us from two training programs in two areas of Bangladesh. In a country of 162,000,000 people, we know there are thousands of women trapped in lives they are deeply ashamed of. Basha wants to be a brand that is respected and known as selling beautiful high quality products, so we can continue to grow to provide more jobs, freedom and dignity to thousands of women.

Thank you for this wonderful insight Robin… we are so proud to be the only UK stockist of Kantha bedspreads handmade by the brave women at Basha. Each one is unique and costs £165 (with free UK delivery) from the Decorator’s Notebook shop. We hope you love them as much as we do!

employee at Basha

{Photographs courtesy of Basha / Decorator’s Notebook}

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