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Book Review: Perfect English Cottage

Time for a little book review of a most glorious decorating book that would do any coffee table proud: Perfect English Cottage by best selling author Ros Byam Shaw with photos by one of England’s most sought-after photographers, Jan Baldwin. Ros Byam Shaw is a freelance journalist and writes for design magazines in addition to being the author of a bestseller. A former Features Editor at The World of Interiors and Deputy Editor of the British edition of W magazine, she lives in a restored Elizabethan manor in Devon, England where she penned this inviting and informative book. Care to sit next to me on the sofa and flip through with me today? Oh good! Because you have no choice. :)

Perfect English Cottage

The publisher of this title, Ryland Peters & Small sent me a copy and not only did I fall in love instantly, I was so hungry for English that I read most of it too! I don’t review all the books sent in because I will not review just any title — if something doesn’t fit my taste or interest (no matter if it is free or not), I don’t bother. But this one — well it’s special — I had to share because it’s quintessential Britain. Whenever I’ve visited England, I always enjoyed strolling around the charming villages mostly for the ambiance — stone homes and pathways, rolling hills, traditional thatched roofs, and wooden floors… Along with the cozy, inviting rooms and rustic fireplaces. The perfect vacation spot in the Autumn is to break free from the modern conveniences of city life (or inconveniences, however you see it) and head to a cottage of any kind really, but an English one is like a big, warm hug. It’s where you go for a few weeks to roll out dough, bake apple pies and curl up under plaid woolen blankets with a mug of cocoa or hot mulled wine. No diets. No laptop. No television. That is what Perfect English Cottage feels like in book format – a big cozy vacation space meant for dreaming.

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

So, what do I like about this book? Nothing. I was so disappointed! Ha ha! No seriously, it is fabulous and I won’t at all be surprised if it becomes the authors next bestseller. For one, it’s huge and the photographs are inviting and vivid. For $22 (at least at Amazon), it’s a steal because I think it’s worth $50 due to book size and the amount of photographs inside. I love a good coffee table book. Photos are not used over and over again on different pages throughout the book, either. Each page is different from the last, each photo new and beautifully shot – the mood of the space reaches out from the pages and pulls you in like cookies beckoning you from the oven. And it was published, in my opinion, during the perfect time of the year (it just released) because it fits the weather and how I imagine England as I’ve only been there in the Autumn months.

I also like it because it  features real homes, 18 of them, and all categorized so you have rustic, whimsical, historical and cottages by the sea to name a few, all styled with absolute perfection. It is divided, by style, into five key chapters: Character, Holiday, Romance, Simplicity and Elegance. It reminds me so much of some of the homes I’ve either lived in or visited when I lived in New England back in the states, which is another reason why I love this book so much — it’s a reminder of a bit of where I’ve been and experiences I’ve had. The medley of patterns, prints, colors and textures in each room lures you in and holds your attention — and one theme I see through the photographs is simplicity, creating a retreat, layering experiences and years into the home decor, and infusing rooms with character while still using careful restraint so as to not overwhelm the space or yourself with too much clutter. These rooms are edited beautifully.

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Perfect English Cottage

Bottom line: If you love a good English cottage, take it from me — this is a great addition to your decorating library.  This book won’t disappoint!

Please note: As most of you know but I’ll say it again… all book links to the title are associated with my Amazon store and will link to Amazon where you can purchase it. If you purchase the book, I earn 6% of the book total ($3.85 USD before tax).

(images: holly becker for decor8)

Posted in Books + Magazines on September 25, 2009

All In The Details…

I have a few lovely pages to share with you sent in by Melinda, designer/owner of Dandi in Australia, who recently assisted Wedding Style Guide (leading Australian bridal magazine that looks divine) with some gorgeous products and ideas for a wedding theme. People generally don’t think of a wedding magazine as anything they’d pick up unless they are getting married or helping to plan one, but I refer to them constantly as a source of decorating ideas and for color palette and pattern inspiration in addition to styling ideas for parties. I find some of the most exquisite color medleys in bridal magazine spreads so I insist on finding a good bridal magazine and subscribing to it because it can really help train your eye and develop your own personal style and creativity. I believe the more you look at beautiful, well edited and carefully styled things, the more you are training your eye for good design and you may even start to see your own wardrobe, home and even food preferences improve. I notice that after several years in this profession, my taste (which was a bit all over the place when I started), finally developed into a coherent style that fits me and my personality and lifestyle perfectly.

Wedding Style Guide

I always had good taste in things like most of you, but I needed to refine and trim and work out exactly what my own personal style statement really was so that when I shop or flea market or anything else, I’m not carrying home things that I liked in-store but that do not work in my home. Some people are always very surprised at how I am able to do this but it comes from years of training in addition to being born with a certain fascination for decorating that became evident to my family when I was a very young girl who was obsessed with decorating and constantly flea marketing and shopping at my mother’s side — trading in trips to amusement parks and waterslides to accompany her instead or sitting by her side watching her patiently sew for hours — everything from shower curtains to drapes to the clothes that I wore. My mother was a domestic goddess and I was happy to be in-training by her side. She also loved to landscape and was known in our neighborhood for having the best yard ever. When I’d go outside to look for her, it wasn’t uncommon to find her chatting up the neighbors, giving them planting tips on on her knees in their yard showing them how to arrange and plant things. She was also trained in her twenties as a floral designer, so we had flowers in our home at all times. I was also very keen on the neighborhood paper goods shop and would blow my entire allowance every Friday on Japanese “Sanrio” products from pencils to smelly erasers and diaries. Then I’d head to the bookshop to buy books and magazines. Hey, it was the 80s.

In fact, all I ever wanted when I was really young was to have my own home one day – I didn’t think about having babies, playing mommy and I gave little thought back then to having a husband or even a career as much as I thought about how fun it would be to have an entire house to decorate and “play” in. I’m sure many of you can recall your own memories of when you were very young, before you had external influences to tell you to be “this or that” profession, when all you loved to do was play “house” or be a mommy. It’s fun to think about how those days influence who you are now and what you like. As I grew older, my preferences remained strong on decorating and moving the furniture all over the house, but then I learned how to read and write and would spend hours (after decorating and cleaning and perfectly arranging everything in my room) writing in my journals or making my own little books with my horrible illustrations. I learned early on that I would not be an illustrator, but I still loved to try. And because I hated doing homework, the only way I could do it was to “teach” it before my class of stuffed animals lined up on my bed with name tags. It’s no surprise that I still love all of these things. Blogging, in particular, has helped me immensely when it comes to getting in touch with what I loved to do as a child. In school, particularly high school and college, I lost touch with who I really was deep inside because I just needed to get a job, pay the bills, and work. And I did this for many years until I decided to get back in touch with my first loves, I guess you could say. And from there, things have gone so well. I find that once you do what you were sorta created to do in life, things just flow… And you start to really figure stuff out. Like personal style. You wouldn’t believe how greatly personal joy and happiness affects your ability to get in touch with your personal style and to know yourself. Now what does all this have to do with an Australian wedding magazine? I’m getting there…. :)

Decorators, designers, stylists and people with good taste in general train this by carefully choosing, knowing their style, and often carrying with them swatches from things in their home so that when they shop there isn’t a bad decision made that one pays for later. There is not much more of a secret to shopping than that – honestly. To know thyself… this is the way to avoid picking up things that you don’t like when you get home. So! This is why I always encourage people to surround themselves with things and places and even people that inspire their own creativity, happiness and help them to train their eye so that there is a greater sense of peace when at home amongst all these “things” collected out in ones journey. And having a good solid collection of books and magazines that reflect YOUR vision is vital to all this as well. So next time you see a beautiful bridal magazine with a focus on tabletop decorating, floral arrangements, favors, etc. don’t pass it by discarding it as not applicable. It is! It is! If you’re not convinced, head to a magazine rack and see if you can be swayed… Check out wedding blogs too (they’re magnificent resources with often über creative authors) Or simply view these shots within this post. I particularly love the styling but also the colors (yellow and aqua, which has to be one of my favorite color combos) and ideas in general. Have a look, I think that Melinda did a beautiful job.

Wedding Style Guide

You can visit the Wedding Style Guide website for more goodies and thank you Melinda for sending me these gorgeous images to share here today!

(images: wedding style guide)

Posted in Books + Magazines, inspiration on September 25, 2009

Homes & Gardens Inspiration

Looking for a little roomspiration today? I have some beautiful rooms that I’d love to share with you that have appeared in previous issues of Homes & Gardens (UK) magazine. Are you a regular reader? I usually find my copy at the train station here and really love many of the rooms that they feature. Let’s have a look together below at just a few of them. If you’d like, you can tell me which ones you favor and why. I’ll number them to make it easy for you to reference them in your comment. Ready?

Homes & Gardens UK

(1) This space feels very warm and glamorous to me. I really like the trimmed pillows and that mix of lilac and yellow here. The painting marries everything below it. So, so welcoming.

Homes & Gardens UK

(2) I think the person who owns this home clearly has the same obsession with chairs as I do. I laughed a little when I counted 7 in this living room, in 3 separate groupings (which is how, I imagine, the owner justified owning so many chairs). I like the scale of this space too, it’s very grand and palace-like. The crown molding, mirror and curtains are so insanely beautiful! Come into my parlor for tea, ladies…

Homes & Gardens UK

(3) What’s not to love here? First, that green wall. Wow. And those petite chairs, like the ladies perched atop them must be size zero as they look almost like they’d break otherwise. Like dollhouse furniture…  The lighting is extraordinary as well. And then, with so much perfection you have a very imperfect floor and a cover tossed over the table to appear almost like a casual break for tea and cookies… And aren’t the seat covers unexpected?

Homes & Gardens UK

(4) This is so serene and I like how the fabric is acting as a headboard here. A very low-budget DIY way to make a bedroom beautiful with a striking focal point. And it’s smart, because if you tire of the fabric you can swap it out for something different. I also like that the lamps aren’t taking away the powerful print of that fabric – clear glass just seems so perfect for the lamp selection. And then you have all that mint and beige, and the bed that is slightly messy… I want to do a running jump onto it right now in fact.

Homes & Gardens UK

(5) Here we go again, pastel hues that feel so feminine and welcoming… And what a sweet sofa, the bottom cushion looks like silk doesn’t it? Maybe raw silk (my favorite)? Whatever it is, I love this choice for the sofa as it could look too serious otherwise. The stripe adds personality.

Homes & Gardens UK

(6) I think this room comes closest to my style, because it’s very calm and casual, almost beachy-in-the-city and since I was raised on the beach and spent my adult years in the city, I know why my style is a little of both. I love the chair and the curtains, and of course the blues and violets with shades of creamy white..

Homes & Gardens UK

(7) This room is a bit more modern, less relaxed but more curated… I imagine the owner to be a very posh socialite or something. (not me). Doesn’t that rug look like heaven for the feet? Yellow and gray works so nicely in this space…

Homes & Gardens UK

(8) Another well edited space. A little too perfect for me to actually live in, but if I add a few of my own touches here I can see myself enjoying this living room. The shelving is a nice choice for a small room like this, and I like the small white table near to the chair, the scale of it is perfect for placing a cocktail or some magazines.

Homes & Gardens UK

(9) I’m going to cheat with this one because what I like most is the lighting and the view! Look at the balcony railing, it’s so ornate and reminds me of London for some reason…

Homes & Gardens UK

(10) I love this sofa and the pillows on it. I imagine this room much differently if I were to occupy it, but I could see myself working in that sofa somehow. It would be fab in a bedroom that was large enough to have a sitting area, wouldn’t it?

Okay, your turn! :)

(images: homes & gardens uk)

Posted in Books + Magazines, Decorating Tips on September 22, 2009

Elle Decoration South Africa

I’m on a magazine kick today, right? I can’t help it. Once I get on these topic rollercoasters I have a hard time breaking free. My current fascination is with Elle Decoration South Africa because Heather Moore, an editor on their blog (thanks, Heather!), sent me an issue. I love it, especially this particular one shown on my table below with the cherry blossoms in all their glory on the cover. Flowering branches in the home, outside of rosemary and olive topiary trees and peonies, are my favorite things to put on display — though very hard to always find since they are seasonal and not all flower shops carry them even when they are in season. So when I cannot have real cherry blossoms, I will casually lay my pretty magazine on the coffee table to bring in these beautiful blooms.

Elle Decoration South Africa

This magazine is not only gorgeous on the outside but the guts of it are ever so tasty! It’s too good to pass up. Elle Decoration whether in SA or other countries, are all quite amazing publications. Nothing at all like Elle Decor (US) which is beautiful as well but on a very different level, much more high society I think. Elle Decoration, on the other hand, feels more creative and approachable to all income levels in my opinion, like a lot of the things you see you could almost reproduce yourself if you had the right color of paint or the patience to hand create something that inspired you.

Here’s a peek of ED South Africa Spring 2009 (current issue) below, these are my low res scanned copies but hey it’s some bait to entice you. To enjoy the full high res beauty and perfect photography on every page you’ll need to purchase a hard copy or visit their website. I particularly LOVED the home of stylist Tracy Lynch, the dresser below is her magical creation. Of course I love the use of doilies over the bed and all of the butterflies. It reminds me of the decor8 blog logo/template if interpreted into decor. :)

Elle Decoration South Africa

Elle Decoration South Africa

Elle Decoration South Africa

Elle Decoration South Africa

Now let’s talk about magazines in general for a moment because like you, I’m addicted to them and I want to talk about why and what we can all do to keep magazines in circulation. First of course, to really help magazines we need to be careful about how much of their content we show on our blogs. If we scan in every page then no one will buy a hard copy, right? Though, I know this won’t sit well with some of you, but I had to say it. Think about it when you blog though. It matters.

And next, I must confess that when it comes to magazines I prefer print over digital sometimes because I think there is nothing better than holding a book and reading it or sitting on the sofa listening to your favorite music with a mag in hand that you’d saved for that exact moment.

Online, I have blogs and online mags that I go to for inspiration — but it’s a different medium and a different feeling altogether. Not better or worse, different. It’s like saying Italian food is better than Thai food. How can you say this if you love both equally. And that feeling of blog/online mag love is often centered around the fact that what I find online is often of-the-moment and so this often fuels my need to know about the best and latest. As a writer, I need to know these things to stay on top of what’s what in order to produce interesting content. Print publications, due to schedules and such, cannot generate content as quickly which is why most of your popular magazines have blogs with experienced editors writing about those must-have items that didn’t make it into the magazine.

But a print magazine is a bit of history in your hand, you can reference it at anytime in the future as long as you keep your copy in good shape. And the smell of paper, yum. Same goes for books. I could never get into reading books online or even on handheld devices kindle (sorry, kindlers out there) because I love the paper smell so much, holding something vs. scrolling through, and of course you cannot read everything online because not all you find it fact-checked, verified, or even true. Plus, it’s not always good for your vision to only read from your computer. Plus there is something long lasting about a book. You cannot (oops!) delete a book but you can delete a blog post by accident as I’ve done many times in the past – then that content is gone for good. You cannot fry a magazine but you can fry your harddrive. Things like that make me cherish print stuff in addition to the digital goodies.

I think blogs and books and magazines call all live happily together in the same universe though. I don’t think one needs to push out the other. Currently publishers are battling over this topic and some are really upset that blogs exist, others still don’t understand the fascination with blogs, and still others just want nothing to do but work with bloggers because they know that we have a powerful position here on the web with all of us pulling together to form this great big community of friends and colleagues. But I say both magazine and blog and digital mag can live in harmony.

To illustrate: People still go to the movie theater despite that they know in a few months the same film will release on DVD, which they can show in their home with their pimped out audio/visual system for a lot less money than a movie night out. But they still go see movies just the same. It’s a different experience — the crowds, the smell of popcorn, the sounds of others reacting to the picture before you. I love that moment when you enter your favorite newsstand and spot the latest issue of the magazine you anticipate each month. It’s a fleeting moment, but a moment just the same that matters and brings a burst of joy. I’m all about these mini bursts and love to feel excited over something now and then. That’s why I still love to see a movie on opening weekend vs. a month later. Of course, we’re all so different in this respect but this is how I see it.

Free Wallpaper

(download this as wallpaper here.)

But I’ll say it again and again on this blog, print magazines will always remain one of my favorite purchases to make and I’m very brand loyal to several ones out there. Which is why when Domino crashed and Blueprint fell apart, then all the others afterwards, I almost felt like there was something lost in the design community in the states that once drew us all together. There was, and still is I think, a HUGE hole that nothing else is filling with some of our favorite magazines gone. Whether that will change or not still remains to be seen. But certain movements or feelings or things, I believe, cannot be replaced and one just has to move on. Perhaps that whole Domino/Blueprint era was only a stepping stone. But it’s still sad. Often when my friends here ask me what magazines I miss the most from the states I cannot point to very many because most of my favorites folded. I want to encourage you to continue buying and supporting magazines you love even though you read tons of blogs. Print is really good, print is your friend. :) Sure, you can flip through them at the library or magazine stand, but if you really love and want to see your favorites stay around, buy them and encourage your friends to buy them too. A world without magazines would be a world that I hope I never have to live in! We have to work to make sure that this never happens.

Okay, I’m off for the day… I’ll spiral no more down into my rabbit hole of thoughts and dreams of what ifs and how cans. I’ll simply go out and buy a coffee and then, a magazine. :)

(images: holly becker scanned images from elle decoration south africa for decor8)

Posted in Books + Magazines, inspiration on September 16, 2009

Books:

Some of my books...

Further editions available: Decorate published by Murdoch Books for AU/NZ, Decorar BR, Alt om indretning DK, Inspirace pro váš byt CZ, Dekorácie SK, La décoration FR, Lust auf Wohnen DE, Sisusta tyylillä FI and Sztuka aranżacji wnętrz PL.

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