Maldivians are Planting a Community Spirit by Going Farm to Fork

Maldives farm to fork

On a remote coral island in the Maldives, Hannah Stephenson discovers a rural community which has turned its sandy landscape into a farming haven.

Maldivian farmer Ali cuts open a heavy, juicy watermelon from his plot of land, proudly presenting us each with a slice, juice dripping, still warm from the sun.

Standing on his small farm in Meedhoo, an island within the Addu Atoll, the southernmost group of islands in the Maldives – next stop Antarctica – you could be a million miles away from the luxurious five-star resorts complete with picture postcard white beaches, aquatic lagoons, over-water villas and swaying coconut palms synonymous with these islands.

Walking past a corrugated shack, which doubles as his shed, Ali proudly shows us his farm, which looks a bit like a huge allotment.

Watermelons and honeydews are ripening on the ground in the sun, many of which serve the discerning clients at the nearby deluxe Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa on neighbouring Villingili Island.

Maldives farm to fork

Ali is one of 50 farmers on Meedhoo who have helped form a cooperative to clean up their land and make it more productive, in partnership with the Shangri-La group, and tourists are now being offered the chance to see how this partnership is working in a new farm-to-plate experience.

Since the tourist boom of the 1970s, hotel-islands (there’s only one resort hotel or complex per island in the Maldives) were originally developed with the aim of keeping Western visitors separated from the Muslim localities.

But trends are changing and, despite the continuing political unrest of this nation, tourists are growing more curious about local communities and their cultures, seeking more authentic travel experiences.

The location of Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort is not only ideal for the luxurious fly-and-flop break, where tourists can boast that they’ve crossed the Equator, spotted turtles, seen manta rays and prolific pods of spinner dolphins or enjoyed a round of golf, but being close to the other islands which form the Addu Atoll also allows easy access to an insight into local life.

 

Maldives farm to fork

Once you’ve had a few days to wind down and admire the glorious vista of the turquoise Indian Ocean, the sublime white beaches and the sumptuous accommodation, you may want to sample a true taste of Maldivian life.

A 10-minute speed boat trip takes us to Meedhoo Island, which spans 2km x 2.5km, where we are presented with garlands of frangipani and bougainvillea by beautiful Maldivian children dressed in traditional Dhiveli libaas, dresses with ornate necklines made from traditional weaving, watched proudly by their hijab-clad mothers.

Meedhoo is clearly new to tourism. Only a few years ago, the small beach on which we are standing was a rubbish dump awash with plastic bottles, rusty cans and other debris, a makeshift landfill from its 3,500-population.

Today, thanks to the work of concerned members of the community who formed an NGO to clean up their island and educate adults and children in all matters of eco-friendliness, there’s not a plastic bottle or bag in sight. Adults and children still take part in regular beach cleans three years on and a local waste management company removes the rubbish.

Here, female tourists are politely asked to wear attire which covers their shoulders and knees in respect of the Muslim faith.

Driving on the sandy road past 900-year-old Koagannu, the oldest cemetery in the Maldives, we come across an impressive school hidden behind bright blue walls, while a peppering of stylish gated houses in subtle shades of lemon clash with nearby tired, older buildings with corrugated roofs and fading pink painted walls. Traditional houses used to be made of corals but, of course, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Maldives farm to fork

By the look of things, tourism has clearly helped some prosper on Meedhoo but has been slower to transform life for others.

With a population of 3,500 to feed, farming has always been big here but now it’s bigger. On one farm, we walk past deep troughs of leafy Chinese cabbages, huge banana trees and beds of yam, whose voluminous leaves are known as elephant ears, and are asked to remove our shoes before entering a large greenhouse filled with rows of lofty cucumber plants bearing dangling ripening fruits.

It’s one of four greenhouses made possible through a $15,900 (approx £12,200) loan in 2013 from the Shangri-La group to the cooperative, which has helped increase farming production massively, so much so that Meedhoo and its neighbouring islands in the atoll now provide the resort with around 15% of its fruit and vegetables. The farmers paid back the cost of the greenhouses within 10 months, which was deducted from the resort’s weekly supply.

Hot Maldivian chillis, papaya, bananas and a variety of salad leaves are flourishing on the cultivated land. Fragrant frangipani, bougainvillea and other flowers grown on the island also serve the resort.

Maldives farm to fork

So how can they grow such rich produce on a bed of coral sand?

Rotten leaf matter on the island is broken down to make soil richer, although compost also has to be imported from Sri Lanka and India to beef up the terrain, while great tanks gather rainwater for the crops.

And while problems of whitefly, thrips (an insect) and mites sometimes threaten the harvest, the biggest challenge for farmers is the changing weather patterns resulting in a longer rainy season, says the community environmental officer Mohamed Kamir.

But efforts are being made to expand the types of crops which may be able to cope with changing weather conditions.

Earlier in the day, we visited the resort’s own chef’s garden to pick vegetables and herbs to use in our dishes at dinner.

There’s an abundance of mint, dill and basil, as well as gourds, aubergines, courgettes and spring onions, Chinese cabbage and rocket, all of which provide some of the resort’s needs.

If the chef’s garden cultivates a new variety successfully, it will teach the Meedhoo farmers how to grow and care for the plants, so that they can expand their own crops.

So, as we sit down to our delicious farm-to-plate dinner in stylish settings on Villingili later that evening, featuring locally-caught wahu carpaccio, meaty tuna with lemongrass veloute with some of the herbs and vegetables we picked earlier in the chef’s garden, and fruit cocktail with mango soup courtesy of the farmers of Meedhoo, nothing could really taste sweeter.

Maldives farm to fork

8 Cracking Ways to Set the Scene for Easter

easter decorating

Planning some Easter entertaining? Gabrielle Fagan reveals simple decor displays and finishing touches to bring the occasion to life.

It’s time to get all your chicks in a row for Easter, with some truly egg-cellent decor!

A holiday gathering will be much more memorable with a cheerful springtime table setting, with plenty of seasonal touches to bring it to life – from pretty hanging eggs on a tree, to colourful wreaths and, of course, a sprinkling of cute, decorative creatures, be it bunnies or chicks.

Style it out and that setting’s sure to be Insta-worthy, promises Rebecca Stanton, a stylist and visual merchandiser at Dobbies.

“Easter decorating includes some of my favourite styling elements, including pretty pastels, blooming bouquets and fresh foliage,” she says. “A mix of candy-coloured decorations will bring a table to life, especially with the addition of miniature chicks and Easter bunnies to set the tone for the occasion.

“Nothing says springtime like a bunch of gorgeous tulips, helping bring a touch of the outside in,” Stanton adds. “Frankly, you can never have too many flowers!”

easter decorating

1. Branch out for that finishing touch

Time was, decorated trees were just for Christmas – but they’re rapidly becoming an essential ingredient for Easter decor too.

“Within the home, an Easter tree is an eye-catching statement piece which can be dressed up or down, depending on your style,” says Lisa Rutherford, stationery and seasonal events buyer at John Lewis.

“They’re becoming ever-more popular. A small collection of hanging eggs can look beautiful and under-stated. If a full-sized tree isn’t for you, consider a smaller table-top tree version, or just a simple collection of branches in a vase with a few ornaments for a mini display.”

easter decorating

2. Keep it cute

Hop to it and gather a collection of chicks and bunnies, which children will love but can also be all you need to pay a subtle nod to the season.

Hang several on a wire across a window frame or mirror (double the visual impact), or hang individually on cupboard handles or from a pendant light above the table.

easter decorating

3. Crack a top table display

“A meal, and the table setting, is at the centre of many Easter celebrations,” says Rutherford. “It’s worth investing in the ingredients for a scheme which you can use again. Consider following a colour scheme – yellow or zingy green are both top choices for a crisp, fresh look.

“Whether you want something fun and functional, maybe a grass table runner and a line of tiny pots of faux daffodils, or a little more sophistication using pastels and muted florals, your table offers a space to be creative and playful. It doesn’t need to be over-elaborate to be successful.” John Lewis has a Talking Tables Grass Table Runner, £18, and Artificial Daffodils in Kraft Wrap, £4, which would be ideal.

easter decorating

4. Treat the table

Splurge on a few new pieces of Easter-inspired homeware to give a table setting a lift, or to decorate a mantel or shelf. They may be just the finishing touches you need.

If that’s beyond the budget, with all those chocolate treats to pay for, simply fill a clear glass bowl full of eggs (traditionally, real eggs are hard boiled and dyed with food colouring) and place in the centre of the table, or opt for a simple spring bouquet from the garden.

For a quick fix: Use a ribbon or twine to tie a hanging decoration to each napkin and personalise with a label displaying each guest’s name.

easter decorations

5. Hunt down style

Easter wouldn’t be the same without an egg hunt – after all, you don’t want to be responsible for making the Easter bunny redundant! Pop up a sign, scatter some artificial eggs, and have chocolate treats as prizes.

easter decorating

6. Bring in nature

Nature’s waking up after winter, with blossom and new growth galore – a beautiful feature of the season. Reflect that indoors too, with floral wreaths and garlands (faux ones are so good nowadays, it’s hard to distinguish them from the real thing). Hang on a door or wall, or use as a table focal point.

easter decorating

7. Create a stunning centrepiece

What you need:

4 birch branches; twine; seasonal flowers and foliage (such as eucalyptus, ivy, mimosa or forsythia); six decorated Easter eggs or Easter chocolates; two large cup hooks.

How to do it:

  • Lay the four birch branches on a large flat surface and loosely arrange them parallel to each other, with a gap of approximately 3-4cm between each.
  • Wind twine several times around an outer branch. Leave a length of 3-4cm of twine and then wind around the next branch and so on, until you get to the far side and the branches are all connected. Do this 20-30cm in from each end of the display.
  • Gather your chosen foliage and flowers together in two loose bunches and bind their stems. Lay each bunch on top of the birch branches with the bound stems overlapping in the middle. Tuck the bound ends into the opposite bunch to hide untidy ends.
  • Tie lengths of twine to your Easter eggs, ready for hanging. Hang your birch branches and foliage from the ceiling with cup hooks and twine, then tie on your Easter eggs in varying positions and at different heights. Tweak the arrangement of the foliage or add more, once the centrepiece is in place, to achieve the look you want.
easter decorating

8. Enter into the spirit of Easter

Don’t confine decoration to inside the house – wreaths hung on a front door, or a tub of spring flowers in a porch makes an attractive, welcoming touch, and will hint at more decor treats inside.

How to Make your Home an Instagram Hit in 6 Simple Steps

Restoring Landsdowne's Kristine Hall shares her styling secrets for 'decor-gramming' success.

If you love your home, you want to show it off – which these days, of course, means posting fab shots on Instagram.

Some of us are apparently so keen to win those likes that we’ll even cheat with ‘fake’ posts! In a survey for the Ideal Home Show, one in six people confessed to having posted an image of someone else’s home and pretended it was theirs. Plus, 18% of the 18-24-year-olds quizzed said they wouldn’t buy a house if they didn’t think it would impress on social media.

That might be taking the trend to extremes, but who doesn’t want Insta-worthy interiors?

Interior designer Kristine Hall, who set up her design and styling company after documenting her own decor project, Restoring Landsdowne (restoringlansdowne.com), knows all about making a space an Insta-hit. Hall’s calm, pared-back Scandi-inspired style is a favourite with decor-grammers (at current count, she has over 44k followers).

Want to steal her secrets? Here, Hall, who will giving advice at the Ideal Home show, shares six simple steps for conjuring an utterly Instagrammable home. Let the posting and boasting begin…

Instagram your home

1. Create a feature with paint

“Paint is the easiest and most affordable way to refresh a space and give it the wow factor,” says Hall. “Go a step further and use it to define an area, an architectural feature, or create character in an otherwise bland room.

“Painted half-walls are bang on trend, but you can also add drama by painting your window frames black (bonus – it makes greenery outside really pop). Alternatively, define a ‘headboard’ shape in paint on the wall behind a bed. Anything goes, and this is big on impact and low on commitment.”

INSTA TIP: Look out for lozenges – the shape, not the sore throat remedy, says Hall. This pill-like form is popping up in all things interiors, from tables and mirrors, to dinnerware and lamps.

Instagram your home

2. Show your bed some love

“Treat your bed the way you treat your wardrobe: Buy separates that coordinate and mix them up,” advises Hall.

“Avoid a ‘matchy-matchy’ look by choosing bed linens in different shades, which complement each other and your room. Mix block colours with contemporary Scandi prints, cottons with velvet or chic wrinkly linens, and add texture with chunky throws and cushions.

“If you think it’s hard to get out of bed now, just wait until you’ve finished piling on those lush layers.”

INSTA TIP: Take it nude! Ultra-fashionable grey has had its (very long) moment in the Insta-spotlight, Hall declares, and colours are moving in a warmer direction. Earthy neutrals, like sand, oatmeal, jute and tan, are the way to go.

Instagram your home

3. Mix old with new

If you’re thinking of redecorating, don’t go overboard and make the mistake of simply adopting a whole style straight from one retailer, warns Hall.

“You don’t want your home to look like it was dragged-and-dropped direct

from a furniture showroom (no matter how lush the showroom in question might be),” says Hall.

“Instead,” she adds, “make the most of what you already have, and elevate the look with a few pieces that are more of-the-moment, so it retains your personality.

“That doesn’t mean holding on to a past-its-sell-by-date flat-pack bookcase or hated heirloom. Bring in new pieces by all means, but before you do, think creatively about what you already own that could be re-purposed, re-positioned, repainted, or recovered. Bear in mind that previously unpopular ‘brown’ furniture is truly enjoying a revival.”

INSTA-TIP: There are so many trends on Instagram and Pinterest, it’s easy to get carried away and constantly want the ‘latest’ look. “It can be more successful to make regular small purchases,” says Hall, “so you just reflect a new look in a small detail or colour and retain your core design ethos.”

Instagram your home

4. Banish bare walls

“A sure-fire way of making a room uninspiring is to plonk one lonely little picture on the wall and call it a day,” says Hall. “But the good news is, it’s easier than ever to find original or limited-edition art at affordable prices.

“You can find unique prints at online suppliers that won’t break the bank, or head to local art fairs, makers’ market or student art shows to bag wall decor that will set your Instagram feed apart.

“Don’t be narrow about your interpretation of art, as it doesn’t end at works on paper or canvas,” she adds. “Think contemporary textiles, wood crafts, self-adhesive murals and more. The possibilities for jazzing up an empty wall space are endless.”

INSTA TIP: Every room should have a focal point, says Hall, whether that’s a special feature or piece of furniture or art work that is really ‘wow’. Style your room around that.

Instagram your home

5. Make it yours

“Its really important to have something unique in every room, that not everyone else can go out and buy – a star piece,” says Hall.

“It can be vintage, bespoke, something up-cycled – but it must be something that gives your home personality. I think a really important thing on Instagram is that people should be able to look at an image of yours, and know immediately that it’s yours.

“That can be difficult because there’s a lot of trends, and for months you can find everyone has the same print or chair, but finding those really special pieces is a good way of ensuring your home has its own special ‘stamp’ and identity.”

If you can’t find what you want for a room, design your own, she suggests. It can be more affordable than you think, and local craftsmen or artists or retailers may be prepared to bespoke a piece for you.

INSTA-TIP: Most people look at Instagram on their phones, so don’t try to cram too much into one shot. Use what’s called ‘negative space’ or try to narrow down the focus of the shot. A whole room can get lost in one image, so take several shots taken from different angles and close-ups of details. It’s about contrast between interesting things to look at, and giving items breathing space and allowing them to impress.

Instagram your home

6. Use natural light for winning shots

Lighting is super-important, stresses Hall. “I don’t use any artificial light in my images, and if it can be avoided, it should be. Natural daylight is always best.

“Of course, it depends a lot on individual properties and the kind of light you have at home, as well as your window treatments. But for me, bright sunshine makes it hard to take clear images. I always try to shoot on a bright but cloudy day.

“This is especially important if, like me, you only use your phone for photography. Having great images is probably 95% of what Instagram is about, and if they’re fuzzy, blurry or unclear, you won’t get the hits.”

INSTA-TIP: Don’t over-style – you don’t need to karate chop your cushions or iron creases into your curtains. Your home will be more enticing if it looks like just that – a place you love to be in – not a staged set piece.

The Ideal Home Show – the world’s longest running exhibition – runs at Olympia London until Sunday, April 7. For more information, see Idealhomeshow.co.uk

How to make your Garden a Plastic-Free Zone

There are different materials and products out there to help you go plastic-free in the garden. Hannah Stephenson looks at 5 options.

So, you want to help stop the scourge of plastic by making your garden a plastic-free zone?

It’s estimated that 500 million plant pots and seed trays are sold each year, the majority of which are sent to landfill or incinerated.

Few garden centres offer take-back pot recycling or reuse schemes at present, although you can check at Recycle Now (recyclenow.com/local-recycling) to see if your council recycles plant pots, though these also tend to be few and far between.

plastic free garden

Plastic gardening products can take up to 450 years to biodegrade if they aren’t recycled, according to greenhouse manufacturer The Greenhouse People (greenhousepeople.co.uk), which has put together some top tips for going plastic-free:

plastic free garden

1. Seek alternatives

It may seem obvious, but the most effective way to reduce plastic in your garden is to simply stop buying it.

With demand growing, more garden centres are offering biodegradable pots made using materials such as coir (from coconut husks), wood chips, rice husks and seaweed. Terracotta also makes a great rustic alternative.

If you’re feeling extra resourceful, scoop out the insides of half a lemon and fill with soil, before scattering a small number of seeds. Once the seedlings sprout, you can transfer to a larger area. Lemon peel also acts as a natural fertiliser, making it a great multi-purpose alternative to plastic.

Use biodegradable jute netting to tie in peas and beans, rather than plastic netting, and wire mesh to create fruit caging to protect your harvest from birds.

plastic free garden

2. Try wooden seed trays

They will still get your seeds off to a flying start and are much more eco-friendly than plastic ones. You can also now buy bamboo seed trays which are biodegradable. You can even plant seeds such as broad beans and sweet peas in loo roll tubes.

plastic free garden

3. Make use of broken pots

One of the main benefits of plastic is that it’s durable and very unlikely to break. The same cannot be said for the more brittle terracotta and ceramic pots.

But don’t dispose of them if they break. Plant pot shards are easy to repurpose by placing them at the base of larger pots to improve drainage, or stick them in the ground and write on them to create handy plant labels.

plastic free garden

4. Choose tools wisely

When it comes to gardening tools, it’s important to think about durability, comfort, as well as the interests of the environment.

With this in mind, if you’re serious about reducing the amount of plastic in your garden, opt for metal tools with wooden handles, which should outlast their plastic rivals.

Metal can rust, so a little TLC is needed at the end of each season to keep them in tip-top condition. Clean each tool with a rag or brush, using warm soapy water, then when dry, spray with WD-40 or rub down with mineral oil. Store by hanging on hooks (away from the damp floor) in a dry airy location for the winter.

gardening with kids

5. Be caring and sharing

If you find you’ve somehow accumulated lots of plastic-based tools and equipment, don’t fret.

Should you use a community allotment or have friends who also enjoy a spot of gardening, why not suggest sharing your plastic equipment or handing it down?

Be a green pioneer and inspire fellow gardeners with the changes you’re making and they may just follow suit. Remember, knowledge is power, so if you’re serious about preserving the environment, lead by example.

Contemporary Connections Exhibition In London this March

Art Noble Exhibition March 2019

CONTEMPORARY CONNECTIONS
Curated by ArtNoble
Tuesday 19 – Saturday 30 March 2019

Following on from 2018’s debut exhibition in November, ArtNoble is proud to present Contemporary Connections, a group exhibition displaying works by seven contemporary European artists.

In a world constantly heading towards self-absorption, Contemporary Connections aims to initiate a dialogue among artists, artwork, audience and collectors, creating enduring connections that are fundamental to our happiness, existence and wellbeing. Whilst not being tied down to a specific thematic or style, Contemporary Connections will display a distinct selection of works, ranging from ceramics, to photographs and paintings, including the feature image above by Yaprak Akinci – Keep your barrels safe.

Art Noble Exhibition March 2019
Alberto Selvestrel - Senza Titolo

These works have been chosen to stimulate interactions between the works and artists, with the aim that these interactions will propagate also to the collectors and visitors.
To enhance this theme of connectivity, talks, workshops and presentations by the artists will be held at the gallery to complement the exhibition. Details of these will be announced on our website.

Art Noble Exhibition March 2019
Gaila Adair - Piccadilly Hill
Art Noble Exhibition March 2019
Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli - Verso il Tibet

ArtNoble’s exhibition ‘Contemporary Connections’ opened on 19th March and will be on show until Saturday 30th March at Willesden Gallery (95 High Road, London, NW10 2SF).

On weekdays we will be open from 9am until 8pm whilst at weekends we will be open from 10am until 5pm.

Come by, say hi and enjoy the beautiful works on display by our artists.

You can find a selection of photos from the exhibition and follow this link to access the online catalogue.

ArtNoble is a distinctive exhibition platform dedicated to the promotion of unique contemporary talents. Founded by Matthew Noble in the summer of 2018, ArtNoble aims to provide an alternative to the standard art gallery model by sourcing talented and upcoming artists irrelevant of their background and medium and curating site-specific exhibitions, with the ultimate vision of connecting the artists and their works to an ever-growing number of collectors.

Artists

Gaila Adair
Yaprak Akinci
Cinzia Castellano
Alberto Fusco
David Gee
Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli
Alberto Selvestrel

Art Noble Exhibition March 2019
Alberto Fusco - Aura
Art Noble Exhibition March 2019
David Gee -Reptilian Bow

More about ArtNoble

ArtNoble is a distinctive exhibition platform dedicated to the promotion of unique contemporary talents. Founded by Matthew Noble in the summer of 2018, ArtNoble aims to provide an alternative to the standard art gallery model by constantly sourcing talented and upcoming artists, irrelevant of their background and medium, and curating site-specific exhibitions.

ArtNoble’s mission is to overcome the barriers and exclusivity typically associated with today’s art world, with the ultimate vision of connecting artists and their works to an ever-growing number of collectors, art enthusiasts and interior designers.

Operating in this way allows ArtNoble to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, creating mass engagement with several different artworks, increasing the perspective with which art is perceived, engaged with, and ultimately, acquired.

Currently operating in London and Milan, ArtNoble represents several contemporary artists. Further to artist representation, ArtNoble also works closely with a number of interior designers, procuring art for their client’s homes, along with acting as an advisor to a number of private collections.

Web site artnoble.co.uk

Art Noble Exhibition March 2019

Phil Spencer: ‘Life is about Constantly Balancing, Rebalancing and Keeping All the Balls in the Air’

Ahead of this year’s Ideal Home Show, TV property guru Phil Spencer talks to Gabrielle Fagan about feeling ‘super-fit’ and having no regrets.

Since finding fame on the ever-popular Location, Location, Location alongside Kirstie Allsopp, Phil Spencer’s become a bit of a TV mainstay, with Love It Or List It and History Of Britain In 100 Homes among his most recent credits.

Later this month, the property guru will once again appear at the Ideal Home Show, sharing his industry insights and tips with audiences.

First up, Spencer, 49, who lives in Hampshire with his wife Fiona and their two sons, talks to us about working with Kirstie, why life’s like driving a racing car, and how fitness is helping him stay young…

Phil Spencer interview

Location, Location, Location has been on TV for 18 years now – what’s the secret of it’s long running success?

“I never imagined it would last so long. I thought it might be an interlude and an opportunity to see how TV worked. I think we were the very first property programme, we got the pick of the formats and we chose one that really works. I’d love to see us reach our 20-year milestone. Kirsty and I have always said that if people keep enjoying the show, we’ll keep on making it.

“It takes people through the intense, emotional decision-making process people go through over property – there’s always ups and downs, emotions and drama, hopefully some excitement but definitely some stress!”

What do you like about property-hunting?

“I get a real kick in finding people homes, there are so many hopes, dreams and aspirations tied up in it. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing people’s eyes light up when you get them a good deal.

“I trained as a surveyor, had my own property company, and if I wasn’t doing this job on television, I’d be doing it in real life. I’ve always been as interested in the people as the houses – I love getting to know them.”

Phil Spencer interview

What makes your partnership with Kirstie Allsopp work?

“It’s like a TV marriage, really. We’ve shared a lot over the years. Predominantly, it works because we’ve become firm friends. We’re totally different but our core values are very similar. She’s far more spontaneous than me. I don’t like surprises, I like to have a plan and as much detail about what I’m going to be doing as possible, so I can mentally prepare.

“In my book, when you build a plan, you stick to it, whereas Kirstie usually comes in half-way through the plan, throws it up in the air, and goes, ‘We’re not doing that, are we? We’re doing this!’ At the end of the day, she’s great fun. She makes every day fresh because you never know what she’s going to do next, and when you’ve made a programme like ours for 18 years, you need things to be fresh.”

Have you ever had a big row?

“I think Kirstie keeps a count, and we’ve had around eight, which in 20 years isn’t bad. It all blows up, there’s a fair bit of noise, and then 10 minutes later we’re kind of, ‘OK, we got that out of our system, let’s move on with the day’, and it’s fine. I think only good friends can do that.

“I never see them as, ‘Oh my God, this is the end’, because they usually happen when one of us is hungry, tired, stressed or worried, and then something little kicks it off. It’s normal really, as we spend such a lot of time together. Knowing each other so well, we usually understand why the other person might be a bit frosty, touchy, emotional or cross.”

Phil Spencer interview

What’s been the biggest highlight of your career?

“I’ve just experienced it. One night every week for a month, I’ve had three different series on screen: Love It Or List It; Phil Spencer: History Of Britain In 100 Homes, and Phil Spencer’s Stately Homes.

“I’m not sure many TV presenters can claim to have achieved that. I think it might even have made my mum a little weary of me, with that amount of shows in an evening, so that’s probably a highlight in itself!”

Do you take an interest in your own home?

“I was brought up on a farm and love living back in the countryside. We moved from London to Hampshire a few years ago. I’m always interested in advances in technology that allow us to run our homes more efficiently. My home’s energy-efficient, with solar panels, insulation and glazing. I’m pretty hopeless at DIY; I tried putting some pictures up recently and had to resort to using Blu Tack.

“I’m really into design and gardening, as our large garden needs smartening up. It’s great to be at The Ideal Home Show, because there are so many inspiring ideas and like-minded people who care as much about property as I do.

“My father’s advice to me, which I’ve held to, is: Make owning a property a priority, because an awful lot can go wrong in the world without affecting you if you own the roof over your head.”

Phil Spencer interview

How do you look after your health?

“Generally, I enjoy being fit, but I need a goal. I promised myself at 40, I’d be fitter than I was at 30 – but it’s a bigger ask to be fitter at 50 than I was at 40! The years do count!

“I feel super-fit at the moment because I’ve just climbed Everest in four days, doing around 12 hours climbing a day, in a team of five to raise money for brain tumour research. I did it last year and it was incredible, but just as challenging, punishing and the equivalent of running three marathons. It meant intensive training over five months. It’s made me feel so good and I’m so buzzing with energy. The only drawback is I wake up incredibly early.

“I’m an outdoors person – I love it and there’s nothing better than a good walk with my dogs. My normal fitness regime is exercising for around 45 minutes four times a week in a gym – I have one at home – and seeing a personal trainer.”

How do you look after your wellbeing?

“Wellbeing’s precious, which you don’t appreciate until you’ve lost it, and then you realise just how precious it is. I’m a firm believer that diet and exercise and sleep conquer most things. So if I’m feeling a bit crap, three days of really conscious exercise, diet and sleep generally sorts out most things out in my world. If it doesn’t, then perhaps there’s a bigger problem.”

Phil Spencer interview

How do you get through the tough times?

“I’ve been very fortunate not to have too many tough times. If I’m worried about something, I’ll talk to my wife. I have a very close family, so if step out of line, one of them or Kirstie will pull me up! I’ve got friends I’ve known since I was a teenager and we’re always there for one another.”

How would you sum up your view on life?

“Somebody once told me, life’s like a race. When you watch Formula One, and the driver has a helmet camera, you see his hands constantly correcting, and going from left to right even when the road is straight. He’s trying to keep steering in a straight line, and I kind of see life like that.

“It’s about constantly balancing, rebalancing and keeping all the balls in the air – keeping your marriage going, looking after the children, running a house, being good at work, maintaining a social life, keeping fit and healthy. It’s busy and there are the normal stresses, but I’ve been very fortunate. I have a gorgeous wife and lovely relationship, two healthy children, a nice house, a job I love and a family that are alive, together and healthy. I’m really happy and have no regrets.”

The Ideal Home Show, the world’s longest running exhibition, will return to Olympia London from Friday, March 22 to Sunday, April 7. Phil Spencer is hosting property talks on stage. For more information, see idealhomeshow.co.uk.

How to Transform a Garden Shed in a few Steps – and 7 ways to use the Spruced up Space.

There's much more to sheds than cobwebs, unused bikes and rusting toolkits. The possibilities are endless.

shed renovation

Do you have an old shed (or even a relatively new one) quietly rotting away at the bottom of your garden? It may be housing a few rusting tools or a long-neglected lawn-mower, but is it really paying its way?

Sheds like this can go one of two ways. They can drift towards degradation, becoming grotty grime-holes that kids run past after dark, ruining the aesthetic of even the most lovingly crafted garden. Or, you can take things in hand and turn it into a designer den.

We know which option we like the sound of. Tempted to work some transformation magic and take your shed from drab to fab? These simple steps should help get you started, along with seven suggestions for how to use it…

shed renovation

Start with the basics

First things first – you need your shed to be structurally sound, and even relatively recent models often aren’t. Replace any rotting boards, use wood filler to seal gaps in the walls or ceiling, and mend any really large cracks that can’t be papered over.

Next get the place clean – and we’re not talking about a 30 seconds of abject sweeping, we mean properly clean. You don’t want to be painting over any spider’s webs or lichen and you certainly don’t want to conceal any rot, so a once-over with a fungicidal wash might be a worthwhile move too.

shed renovation

Perfect your paintwork

Now for the colour: Apply a layer of oil-based primer, and once it dries you’re ready for your first layer of paint (always check products are suitable, and ask a specialist shop for advice if unsure). Paint pumps are much faster than brushes and power sprayers are faster still, but a simple roller will still be perfectly effective.

Remember to put down a tarpaulin to protect nearby areas (grass doesn’t like paint much more than flooring), and cover hinges, handles and window frames with masking tape to stave off unwanted splash. Let it dry, repeat, and let dry again. Depending on your materials, a decent two-coat paint job should last up to five years.

Just like that, your shed has shifted from haunted shack to handsome beach hut.

shed renovation

Keep it cosy

Damp is the number one enemy of a shed-turned-living space, and its number one entry point is from the ground, so it may be time to surface your floor. We recommend vinyl sheeting – it’s relatively cheap, insulating, easy to clean and fares well with heavy footfall. It can even do a creditable imitation of the hardwood floors so many homeowners crave. Most importantly, it’s waterproof, and seasoned DIY-ers can install it by hand in a single sheet.

Unless your shed is for seasonal use only, you may need to insulate more than just your floor. Mineral wool; wood fibre; insulation board – you’ve got plenty of options, but it’s advisable to get in a professional for a job like this.

shed renovation

Fixtures and fixings

Your shed is now fundamentally functional, but if you are really going to make the most of your new-found space, you’ll probably want lights and a heater. Battery operated appliances do work well, but in the long run it may be more convenient to wire up a power supply. Of course, suitability and safety are paramount for anything like this – so call in the professionals before making elaborate plans, and make sure any electrical jobs are done by a qualified electrician.

Otherwise, experiment at your leisure: Deck out the front area as a makeshift patio, hang some fairy lights for extra cosiness. You could even look into adding solar panels to the roof to boost sustainability.

shed renovation

How to use it?

Your shed is your oyster – and pearls are in the making. When it comes to exactly what to do with your newly-spruced up shed, the options are almost endless, and though luxuries like a Jacuzzi might require a little extra elbow grease (and cash!), you can conquer some quite nifty designs with minimal extra effort. Check out these seven ideas for inspiration…

1. The home office

In the age of the internet, laptop and smartphones, more and more people are working from home – and it’s hugely helpful to have somewhere specific to work, that’s away from your TV/bed/toddler. You’ll probably want to add Wi-Fi – and be sure that heater is working in winter – but many a good book has been written and small business begun from the ‘office at the bottom of the garden’.

2. The ‘pub’ shed

This one’s a lot easier than you’d think. Pick up a flat-pack table-top to serve as a bar, throw in a few stools, a dustbin and a cooler (an ice box would do) and technically you’re done. From there, the devil is in the decor: Pin up some posters, chuck a few beer mats on the counter, line the back wall with empty bottles, erect a shelf for your spirits and another for your pint glasses. Before you know it, your mates will be round your backyard every night complaining that you don’t have Sky Sports.

3. The play shed

Playroom or play-house, a little home of their own can keep the kids happy for hours. A cardboard box cooker (or commercially made plastic one) with dishes and utensils, a little table and chairs and they’re set. You might like to help them make curtains for the window or decorate the walls. Maybe even throw in a couple of sleeping bags and let them camp out for the night.

shed renovation

4. The hobby house

Teenage son wants to play the drums? Partner sick of your model train set covering the sitting room floor? Sheds are the perfect place for housing hobbies the rest of family doesn’t share. They may not contain a whole rock band of course, but it’s certainly be better than having them in the kitchen.

5. The art studio

Sheds are particularly good at keeping mess away from your actual home, and allowing the creative process to go on unhindered at any time of day or night. Paint splashes, oozes of glue and a soft layer of wood shavings are much more acceptable in the shed than in the dining room, while paints or tools can be positioned permanently on the walls in perfectly easy reach.

6. The man cave

We’re not sure why this a male thing particularly (women, quite fairly, might like some peace and quiet sometimes too), but the man-cave-shed is certainly a thing. A comfortable old sofa (if it can fit through the door; cushions and beanbags if it can’t), a telly, games console and sound system are all simple plug-ins for the well-wired garden room, and roomier models might squeeze in a pool table as well.

7. The teen den

Rather than escaping to the shed yourself, why not hang onto the house and banish the kids instead? Much the same provision as the man-cave should keep them happy – if perhaps with a different set of tunes. The teens get a bit of privacy while you get a quieter life, while still knowing where they are. Win win.

shed renovation

Eau De Pooch: 12 Ways to Stop your Home Smelling of your Furry Friends

Love your dog but prefer a home that doesn't smell like kennel? Lisa Salmon seeks some simple steps for dealing with that poochy pong. You may feel your dog is just another member of the family - but chances are his distinct odour sets him apart from his human 'relatives'.

That poochy pong often permeates the whole house, although many owners aren’t aware of it because they get so used to it. Visitors, however, will usually be able to quickly sniff out the fact they’re entering a house where a dog lives.

Of course, considering how much joy they bring, dealing with muddy paw prints and hair on the furniture is part and parcel of living with a pet – but there are steps you can take to help minimise the stink factor.

Mandy Jones, director of rehoming services at the pet charity, Blue Cross (bluecross.org.uk), says: “Dogs like to be able to smell themselves in their home, so homes should always smell of them at least a bit. Over-cleaning and removing the smell completely could lead to a dog marking and urinating, which is obviously not desirable.”

Already have a beloved pooch, but keen to find out how to stop the whole house smelling like a kennel? These 12 tips could help…

how to stop your home smelling of dog

1. Wash the dog’s bed

Make sure the dog’s bed is odour-resistant, or at least washable. Usually, beds have a washable cover that you can slip off and put in the washing machine. The inside of the bed may not smell, but if it does you may be able to wash that too – if the washing instructions say you can, and if it’s not too big for the machine. “To minimise doggy smells, make sure they have their own bed and wash it regularly,” says Jones.

2. Wash everything else regularly

If you let the dog on the furniture, Jones suggests using throws that can be easily removed and washed. In addition, regularly wash the dog’s toys, blankets, etc. Also regularly wash your dog’s collar and lead – put them in a pillowcase first to stop the metal bits banging against the side of the washer drum. When washing doggy items, it can help to add a little apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar to the washing detergent – vinegar helps neutralise dog smells.

how to stop your home smelling of dog

3. Brush smells away

Groom your dog regularly, rather than bathing it, to keep its coat clean without washing out essential oils. Jones says bathing may cause skin problems and make matters worse.

4. Check ears and teeth

Smells don’t just come from a dog’s coat, they may also emanate from its ears or teeth, so check these areas regularly, and take your dog to the vet if you smell or spot something that could be a problem.

how to stop your home smelling of dog

5. Use an air purifier

Air purifiers can cut down on airborne odours, and good ones will not only filter particulate matter, but will also kill bacteria and fungi in the air.

6. Introduce nice smells

Although they won’t get rid of a doggy smell, (pet-friendly) air fresheners and scented candles will at least disguise it, as will simply opening windows and letting some fresh air in. “Keep rooms aired by opening windows often, and consider using incense, scented candles or pet-friendly air fresheners to keep rooms smelling pleasant,” suggests Jones. “But don’t spray the dog!”

how to stop your home smelling of dog

7. Clean the floors, carpets and upholstery

Mop hard floors with a pleasant-smelling cleaner, vacuum carpets well, and buy or hire a carpet cleaner and use it regularly to help get rid of deeply embedded dog dander, dirt and hair in both carpets and upholstery on sofas, etc. Always make sure the carpets are completely dry before allowing your dog back onto them.

8. Tackle super-smelly spots

If you’ve washed everything and there’s still a lingering smell, it could be where your dog’s soiled the floor in the past. You may have to identify the source through sniffing the floor close-up, but once you know exactly where the remaining smell is coming from, either buy an odour-repellent product, or make your own odour neutraliser by mixing two cups of white vinegar, four tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda and enough water to fill a spray bottle.

Test the solution on a hidden bit of carpet to make sure it doesn’t discolour it, and if it doesn’t, spray the mixture on the smelly area(s), let it soak in, and then blot it dry with a clean cloth.

how to stop your home smelling of dog

9. Banish with bicarb

Bicarbonate of soda can help to neutralise smells, so put an open container of it near the dog’s toys and/or bed. It can also help to sprinkle bicarb on carpets, leave it overnight and vacuum it up the next day.

10. Buy a new collar

Your dog’s collar may smell terrible, and while most collars can be washed, if it’s old, it might be best to just buy a new one.

how to stop your home smelling of dog

11. Wipe paws

Keep an absorbent door mat and towel by the door and always wipe your dog’s paws when he or she comes in the house from outside, thus preventing him/her bringing in anything smelly.

12. Dry wet dogs completely

If your dog’s been swimming or got wet, make sure you dry him completely to avoid that ‘wet dog smell’ from tainting your carpets and furniture. That means drying thoroughly with a towel, or even using a hair dryer on a cool setting if the dog lets you.

5 Fun Ways to get your Kids into the Garden this Spring

gardening with kids

Lee Connelly, aka the 'Skinny Jean Gardener', says encouraging green fingers is all about making it fun. As the weather warms up, it's time to don coats and wellies and fire up the imagination to encourage your kids to get into the garden, with fun projects to stimulate their interest.

Podcaster, former Blue Peter gardener and RHS social media host Lee Connelly, known as the ‘Skinny Jean Gardener’, is creating a children’s garden at this year’s Ideal Home Show (idealhomeshow.co.uk).

“A study by the National Trust has found that our children nowadays are spending half the amount of time outdoors as we used to when we were younger,” says Connelly. “Getting outside is all about creating memories as a family. Just getting out there, playing games and stimulating the imagination is what it’s all about.”

Fancy getting your youngsters outside for some green-fingered fun? Here, with help from his four-year-old daughter, Olive, Connelly offers five tips on how to encourage kids to get off their screens and into the great outdoors…

1. Give them their own space

Let them have their own patch in your vegetable bed or allotment. If you have limited space, use an old washing-up bowl, putting holes in the base for drainage and then creating a mini-allotment for them.

Good crops to plant include salad leaves and other fast-growing vegetables, so they can see the results quickly. “If you have an allotment, give them their own space to do what they want,” says Connelly. “It gives them a sense of responsibility. Just be there for guidance.”

gardening with kids

2. Encourage them to grow their own

“My daughter didn’t used to like eating vegetables much, until she started growing them,” says Connelly. “But start them off growing something they like eating, or they won’t care about it as much.

“Tomatoes, lettuce and peppers are a good bet. My daughter loves going to our allotment and picking the tomatoes and the strawberries and eating them while we’re down there. Pumpkins and runner beans are also good to sow.”

gardening with kids

3. Encourage wildlife

Children will be engaged when they see butterflies, beetles and other bugs. “We have a hedgehog home in our garden and we often see them in the evenings,” says Connelly. “Make your own hedgehog home – it’s cheap and easy and you can use things you have around the house. Use a plastic box that you can cut holes out of and put up against a fence line. Cover the box with natural materials such as wood. Everything needs to be accessible and easy.”

gardening with kids

4. Make wildflower seedballs

“If your kids like getting messy, this is a lot of fun,” he says. “You get clay, compost, water and wildflower seeds, mix them all together and you make these small wildflower seedballs.

“Dry them on the windowsill and then find a spare area of the garden, throw the seedballs on there and lots of wildflowers will pop up in the summer, attracting bees and butterflies.”

You can also make butterfly fizzy pop by mixing a sugary drink for them. Get a plastic bottle, put a water and sugar mix in the bottle and give it a shake to dilute it, then stuff a sponge into the neck of the bottle and hang it upside down in the garden with string. The sugary mixture will seep through the sponge, creating a magnet for butterflies.

gardening with kids

5. Make a runner bean teepee

Children love to make dens in the garden, but this one could have added interest. Create a wigwam out of bamboo, leaving a space for the entrance. You can then dig a trench around where it needs to be placed, ready to plant runner beans at the end of May or in June.

The beans will grow around the wigwam and provide shelter for the children, as well as some delicious beans. You can move it each year around the garden. Line the floor of the den with bark, gravel or matting for the kids to sit on.

Connelly’s children’s garden at the Ideal Home Show features ideas from schoolchildren, as well as his own designs. He will be hosting gardening workshops at the Ideal Home Show, open from March 22 until April 7 at Olympia London. For tickets, see idealhomeshow.co.uk.

James Martin On Time To Start Embracing British Food

James Martin Great British Adventure and food

Lauren Taylor meets the popular TV chef, after his epic road trip around the British Isles.

When it comes to TV chefs, there are only a few who’ve been chopping, frying and serving up dishes on our screens for more than 25 years – and James Martin, with his straight-talking, homely and down-to-earth manner, is one of them.

Cookery programmes have been a mainstay since Philip Harben showed BBC viewers how to make lobster vol-au-vents back in the 1940s, but even before Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson shot to fame in late-Nineties, Yorkshireman Martin was already a familiar face on telly, and has been ever since.

Following his popular foodie road-trips around France and America, he’s now back with a new show – James Martin’s Great British Adventure on ITV – plus a cookbook of the same name (his 23rd, he says).

James Martin Great British Adventure and food

Now, especially as the Brexit deadline looms at the end of March, is an important time to really embrace British food, says the chef, admitting this was one of the “fundamental reasons” for wanting to do the book and series in the first place.

“I’m a farmer, and this is an amazing country we live in. There are some amazing people producing some amazing food – whether they cook it, serve it, make it, or brew it,” Martin enthuses.

Like a love letter to Britain and its food, James Martin’s Great British Adventure takes viewers and home cooks on a journey the entire length and breadth of the land – from the Isle of Wight for feta and halloumi and Wales for the beef and lamb, to Northern Island for langoustines and Scotland for “the best fruit in the world”, along with many other gems in-between.

“It was one hell of a road trip,” Martin says. “I’ve always wanted to travel but I spent 10 years on Saturday Kitchen in the studio. I was doing home comforts that were all based here, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I wondered what it would be like, to venture out.”

He did venture out – and the result is a showcase of the best of the best; from cooking with Michelin star chefs and some of Martin’s personal food heroes – including Clare Smyth, Sat Bains and Michel Roux Snr (“I pulled my black book of chefs out”), to uncovering little known food producers and suppliers in rural locations.

It’s these people Martin is most passionate about: “The lamb farmer working in -7C up in Scotland, getting up at 5am in the morning, isn’t doing it for a new Range Rover every year – he’s doing it because he’s the seventh generation of the family, and we need to keep supporting that. If nobody shouts about it and we just travel all over the world all the time, that’s not good.”

He’s almost overflowing with stories of fascinating people and underrated produce from his exploration of the British Isles. There’s the vinegar producer in the Orkneys who set up his business in his dad’s garage, a breed of acorn-fed hairy pig called Mangalitsa in the New Forest – and another, Middle White, farmed on the Wales-Gloucestershire border. “It’s the best pork you’ll ever taste, and used to be really famous in the Thirties but now we all want pigs to look like they’ve done 100-metre hurdles, with no fat on them, but that’s where the flavour is,” says Martin.

“There are 200 Middle White sows in the world and this guy has got 100 of them – they’re rarer than the king panda” – but only because we don’t buy their meat. “People are creatures of habit,” Martin adds.

Plus, we import a lot of meat from Europe. Whatever your stance, a departure from the EU will have some bearing on this, and the British food industry in general. “There are positive and negatives,” Martin says. “Fishermen hopefully should be better off because they’ll stop exporting Dover sole and langoustine. But the offset of that is that the floodgates [of import trade] will open to New Zealand and, if we don’t sort out this bloody mess, it will decimate the lamb industry overnight.

“Everyone knows about Welsh lamb, but people always want cheaper and cheaper food – New Zealand can produce masses of it and we can’t compete against them.”

James Martin Great British Adventure and food

But the uncertainty of Brexit isn’t the only reason it’s time to take a closer look at what’s made on our doorstep. British cuisine, with its modern multicultural power, is finally having its moment in the spotlight. “Thirty years ago, we were deemed as the poor cousin around the world in terms of food, but in France I met some of the greatest chefs in the world, and their attitude towards British food and British chefs is totally different. Now we’re on a level playing field, if not better – they see London as the gastronomic capital.”

Famed for recipes that don’t overcomplicate for the sake of it, long-standing Martin fans will be be pleased to know that his latest collection stays true to that approach. “I’m still off the ethos that you should never cook anything on TV that my mum can’t get north of Watford,” he says. “I think chefs can go too restauranty and you’ll start to lose people.” And although he takes some inspiration from British classics and age-old techniques, “it’s fundamentally about the place, about the ingredients, about now”, he adds.

It’s been a long time since Martin first did work experience, aged 14, in a London kitchen, at the Park Lane Hotel (“Getting my arse kicked”) – and longevity, in a world of Instagram foodies and YouTuber cooks, is not to be sniffed at. “This book is an accumulation of 35 years of work, of knowledge, built up over the years,” he says. “And that knowledge, you can’t buy it and you can’t Instagram it.”

He’s got no time for flash-in-the-pan trends either. “The health food bloody thing or vegan month, do we need a whole month for it? We spend 11 months eating what we want, then comes January… It’s baloney,” he says, laughing.

“Food is one of the pleasures of life, and most of us don’t enjoy most things and do a job we don’t like, so for Christ’s sake, just eat what you want.”

James Martin’s Great British Adventure continues every weekday on ITV. The accompanying book, James Martin’s Great British Adventure: A Celebration Of Great British Food With 80 Fabulous Recipes by James Martin is published by Quadrille, priced £25. Available now.

James Martin Great British Adventure and food

So, if you are inspired by this article and need a stunning kitchen to work in, why not take a look at this fine property with it’s stunning Evie Willow kitchen.

8 Tips for Successfully Managing your Money as a Couple

Finances can play a big part in relationships. Vicky Shaw finds out how to set good strategies in place and avoid money fall-outs. So, love has blossomed and you think you've found the perfect partner - but are you financially compatible? Understanding each other on money issues can go a long way to making or breaking a relationship.

managing money in a relationship

“Whether you’re married, living together or just getting to know one another, it’s crucial both parties understand each other’s finances and know how they view money management,” says Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director at Fidelity International (fidelity.co.uk).

“Being open to discussing the long-term financial plans you may have, and vice versa, can save having a lot of issues further down the line.”

Here, Montgomery shares eight tips for making sure your finances flourish in your relationship…

2019 money financial predictions

1. Don’t be afraid if one of you is a saver and the other is a spender

In a balanced relationship, having one keen saver and one more comfortable spending (within reason) can be beneficial – if it’s clear who’s responsible for what financially in the relationship. The saver can encourage a healthy attitude towards financial saving goals – be it a first home, an adventure holiday, or just cash for a rainy day. On the other hand, the spender may take on monthly living costs and cover expenses like socialising with friends and family.

2. Don’t leave your partner in the dark

All too often, couples leave one of the parties completely in the dark over bigger commitments, like savings or retirement plans, leading to misunderstandings and tension.

The money and your financial security belong to both of you, so make sure you both have at least a basic understanding of the state of your finances. It may feel daunting at first, but talking openly about your finances is so important, both when fostering new relationships or maturing in a long-term relationship or marriage.

managing money in a relationship

3. Be honest

Many people hide debts from their partner – often out of embarrassment. But honesty really is the best policy. If you’ve come to the point when securing a joint loan or mortgage makes sense, it’s crucial any unpaid debt or blips on credit scores come to light. A supportive partner will work with you to find a solution. If they’re not up to it, then better you know now rather than later.

4. Communicate when one of you earns more than the other

Pretending you earn more than you do when you first meet might seem like a good idea, but eventually the shortfall will become apparent. Communication here is key. Some couples have separate bank accounts, others keep a joint account for household expenses, some agree to split bills equally, some do it in proportion to their income, while others divide up the outgoings, with one person paying the mortgage/rent and another responsible for utility bills, for example.

managing money in a relationship

5. Don’t let ‘outside’ interests/expenses become a source of conflict

It may be that you have children from a previous relationship who need your financial support, or a hobby that requires a substantial financial outlay. If you aren’t open about the costs with your partner, these ‘outside’ expenses can become a source of conflict. Be up-front and honest, so you both can ensure you’re able to factor them in to your shared budgeting.

Often, keeping a separate pot of money or a separate account for these expenses is a good way to ensure they’re accounted for and covered. Separating them out also means they’re not a constant niggle to your partner. Setting up a direct debit to cover these costs is another way to make it easier.

6. Discuss the future now

For example, if you both want to travel the world later in life, factor that into your finances now to make sure that when you do travel, you can travel in style.

managing money in a relationship

7. Don’t be afraid to take control

While it’s good to plan together, make sure you also take responsibility for your own finances – whether it’s by opening a new savings account or contributing more into a pension.

8. Protect yourself and your partner

Nowadays, many people choose to live together for longer before getting married or without tying the knot at all. However, this can be an issue in terms of your finances. You could consider setting up an agreement to ensure that both parties are protected and assets are divided as you would wish.

Colour Pop: 11 Ways to be Inspired by Brights and Bolds

If you don't want to play it safe, aren't afraid to tread boldly, and have taken a shine to making a spring statement, then you're bang up to date with the current trend for blending deep, decadent shades with bolds and brights.

Designers love to keep us on our toes – and, as Donna Taylor, PPG colour expert and principal technical colour, says: “This year is all about embracing colour and inspiring people to use it in unique ways, whether that’s through pairing bolds with sophisticated neutrals, or being clever with palettes and design features to make the most of different spaces.”

To give you a head start on using colour with confidence, the colour stylists at Johnstone’s paint have launched three new palettes to inspire consumers to introduce bright and daring schemes – but for maximum impact, they cite the ‘feature wall’ as the biggest trend for 2019, with statement colours getting ever more popular.

Elsewhere, just as we’re finally heading towards the brighter seasons, shops are welcoming in joyful shades too.

For inspiration, check out these 11 bold buys…

2019 bright and bold

1. Johnstone’s 304028 2.5L Matt Emulsion Paint – Passion Pink, £14.99, Amazon

“The main intention of a feature wall in a room is to create a focal point and add interest to the space. To achieve this, the colour needs to be striking enough to draw the eye to it. Using bold colours will help to create impact or drama, using vibrant colours can give a sense of freshness to the space,” says Taylor.

“Bold feature walls should not be used in small spaces, as this will shrink the area further. It’s advised that pastel colours would work better on all walls and bold colours introduced as artwork, accessories and soft furnishings instead.”

2019 bright and bold

2. Coloured Shot Glasses – Set of Six, £22, Oliver Bonas

To keep it fresh and bring something new to the table – or drinks trolley – these colourful shot glasses can be used to serve cocktails alongside sweet desserts for a sense of fun.

2019 bright and bold

3. Motorised Capital Roller Blind Collection: Blinds, from £109, and Dream Motor, from £153 (operated by a DreamHub, £189), for information and stockists, visit apollo-blinds.co.uk.

With so much colour being showcased, you’ll want to keep the light flooding in. Along with being semi translucent, Apollo Blinds’ Camden range has an exceptionally wide colour palette (66 options), so there’s no excuse when it comes to hunting down your sock-it-to-me must-have shade.

2019 bright and bold

4. A by Amara Grid Crochet Cushion – Pink, £40, Amara

Who would have thought crochet could be cool again? The arts and craft movement is in full swing, and this bubble-gum pink cushion should inspire some creativity.

2019 bright and bold

5. Clarissa Hulse Angeliki Fabric – Sunset, £103 per metre, Cushions from £40, clarissahulse.com

Brooding blues and moody mauves work to spectacular effect when they collide with swathes of lustrous cotton/silk curtains with botanical designs, to mirror more exotic climes. To be even more inventive, mix brights with brights and don’t be afraid to clash colours.

2019 bright and bold

6. Broste Copenhagen Alrik Vase/Tealight Holder – Blue/Smoke Pine, £15, Amara

Having set the tone with your pot of paint, vibrant decos and flea-market finds, tealights in colourful candle-holders are an essential buy to show off those brush strokes and make inky walls look even more dramatic.

2019 bright and bold

7. Lava Lamps, £77 each, grahamandgreen.co.uk

A Sixties icon, and great investment piece, lava lamps are trending once more (did they ever really go out of fashion?). For maximum effect, more is more, especially when you can play swirls of bright bubbles in perpetual motion against existing stony neutrals. These from Graham & Green are available in four ‘groovy’ colours.

2019 bright and bold

8. Miami Collection Navy Blue Classic Velvet Sofa, from £1,695, Neon Box Sign, from £95 (other decos from a selection), grahamandgreen.co.uk

Inspired by ‘stylish Palm Beach hideouts’, this three-seater sofa with left chaise and middle element makes a great building block if you want to fast-track to a funky resort lifestyle, coupled with some kitsch accessories. Come summer, go for a glam, boho chic vibe, with pom-pom cushions, textured light fittings and vintage seashell accessories.

2019 bright and bold

9. Sara Miller London Portmeirion Chelsea Collection Cake Plates – Set of 4, £42.50, portmeirion.co.uk

Pretty as a picture, we think these decorative birds in flight would look brilliant hanging on a statement wall. Check out Pinterest for inspiration as to how to group them together.

2019 bright and bold

10. Brighton Sofa – Plush Velvet Peony, from £875 (available from late-Feb), Darlings of Chelsea

For a sense of drama, a plush velvet sofa will bring richness to any room, especially when it’s styled against that all-important dark wall. And if you can’t bear to part with a restful palette, simple dark accessories in natural materials will complement that pop of colour.

2019 bright and bold

11. Make Your Own Neon Light, £15, Oliver Bonas

If you don’t want to hang a lot of pictures on the wall, but fancy putting your name (or a message) in lights, what’s not to love about playing around with three metres of flexi wire to make your own neon sign…

Property For Sale Early Preview

We’ve rushed to get this short video preview available to view today, which means our house buyers can have an exclusive preview before the property goes to the open market in the Spring / Summer.

  • Grounds of almost 4 acres (yet to be checked)
  • Vast Kitchen / Family room
  • Around 4,500 sq. ft. of space

Located in sought after Long Sutton in Hampshire, the estimated guide price is £2.0m. and further details are available from our Odiham branch – telephone 01256 704851

Luxury Contemporary Property For Sale Preview

This is a property preview of a truly stunning detached New England style home occupying a mature plot measuring approximately 0.6 of an acre, in the heart of wonderful countryside in the charming hamlet of Hazeley Lea, just three miles north of Hartley Wintney.

Take a look at the preview video above and be impressed with the breathtaking high specification space.

New to the market - Guide £2,150,000

The luxurious accommodation is arranged over three floors, providing around 4,500 sq. ft. of exquisite space, including a vast high specification kitchen/breakfast/family room by Evie Willow. In addition to the comprehensive range of fitted units and a central island with seating, wall to wall bi-folding doors open to the Southerly rear garden and bar/terrace area and swimming pool.

luxury kitchen by Evie Willow property for sale
luxury kitchen by Evie Willow property for sale
Luxury Evie Willow Kitchen / Family Room

Further ground floor accommodation includes a fine reception hall, triple aspect sitting room with log burner, home office, play room, utility room, cloakroom and a bedroom with en-suite bathroom / wet room shower

reception hall property for sale
A fine reception hall

There are six bedrooms in total, and the sweeping staircase leads to the first floor with the master bedroom and three further double bedrooms, all with fitted storage and en-suites. On entering the master bedroom suite there is a stunning bespoke Evie Willow dressing room, a superb en-suite bathroom / shower room and a vast bedroom space.

vast master bedroom property for sale
The vast master bedroom
en-suite dressing room to master bedroom by Evie Willow
The luxury Evie Willow en-suite dressing room to the master bedroom
en-suite to master bedroom property for sale
Luxury en-suite bathroom and shower room to master bedroom

The second floor features a further bedroom with en-suite bathroom and an additional room which could be used as a games/cinema room or bedroom.

Guest bedroom property for sale
Superb Guest bedroom suite
en-suite to guest bedroom property for sale
En-suite to above bedroom

The south facing rear garden is mainly laid to lawn and flanked by trees. Immediately to the rear of the property is a large patio area which leads to a heated outdoor swimming pool which is run by air source heat pumps. To the front is a gravel driveway with parking for several vehicles leading to a double carport with wood store and storage shed.

swimming pool property for sale
Heathed swimming pool

Further features include underfloor heating to the ground and first floor, Cat 5 cabling and a Sonos speaker system. There is active planning permission in place for further extension works to include an indoor swimming pool or space for gym/studio.

Located around thirty five miles from central London, the property is particularly well placed for the commuter, with both the M3 (j4a 6 miles) and M4 (j. 11 9 miles) motorways within easy reach providing easy access to the Thames Valley corridor and motorway networks.

Mainline stations at Winchfield (about 6 miles), Reading, Basingstoke, Hook and Fleet provide fast and regular rail services to London Paddington or Waterloo. Heathrow Airport is about 35 miles and Farnborough Airport is about 12 miles distant. All distances and times are approximate.

For further details telephone 01252 620640.

Check out how video can enhance a property sale or let.

7 simple steps for creating a stylish – and productive work space at home

A work station that suits your taste and needs will surely help bolster motivation and focus. Time to show who's boss, says Gabrielle Fagan.

Working from home can be the ultimate dream ticket – no more commuting or having to dress formally, or worry about office politics – and even better, you get to escape all that dreary corporate decor.

“Cutting down on wasteful travelling time, enabling you to spend more time with the family, is just some of the many benefits to home-working, and it can be particularly beneficial from a health and wellbeing perspective,” enthuses Susan White, marketing director at blinds and curtains specialists, Hillarys.

If you’re set to join the millions who work from home, look on it as the perfect chance to tailor a space to suit your taste and needs.

We’ve done the homework for you and devised seven simple but stylish steps, so you can make light work of creating the perfect home office…

stylish working at home decor

1. Make it personal

At home, you’re the boss, and you can truly indulge your taste and have the freedom to express your personality in the decoration of your ‘office’.

In an open-plan space, zone an area with a stunning wall mural, or cork tile an expanse of wall so you can pin up inspiring photos or to-do lists.

Alternatively, paint a wall with black chalkboard paint, to transform it into a wipeable surface for scribbling ideas, plans, or simply expressing yourself. (Rust-Oleum Black Magnetic Matt Chalkboard Paint, £14 for 750ml, B&Q, is ideal for the job.)

TIP: If you fancy it, don’t be afraid to incorporate pattern and colour into your office scheme. Research has found that both can actually help keep you creative and stimulated at work. For a perfect balance, keep energetic colours in your periphery, while sticking to a more subdued look for the desk.

2. Pretty up with pink

If you’re after a softer scheme, reduce the risk of workplace stress by choosing a calming colour for a work area. Pink is reputedly a positive colour, inspiring warm, comforting feelings and imparting a sense that everything will be all right – and who doesn’t like the sound of that?

stylish working at home decor

3: Kill the clutter

Keeping a tidy office is crucial to staying on top of things. Organising and filing loose papers means you’ll spend less time searching for them – coping with clutter is a big time-waster.

Filing cabinets, desks with compartments, and accessible floating shelves for file boxes are a good investment. Don’t let a notice board be all to-do lists and bills though, or you won’t ever want to look at it.

TIP: Keep everyday essentials close to hand, so there’ll be less temptation to get up and wander. If you know you’ll need frequent caffeine top-ups, you could even keep a little coffee-maker or kettle near the desk, and a mini-fridge stocked with cold drinks.

4. Carve out a creative corner

“Not everyone has an entire room, or even an entire wall, to dedicate to an office. But that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a space somewhere in your home, be it a landing, bedroom or corner of a living room, to let your creative juices flow,” says White.

“Whatever you use your home office for – computer work, home and life admin, or crafts and projects – an effective work area demands plenty of light. Equally, you don’t want glare on your screen, so choose your window dressings wisely.

“Shutters and Venetian blinds have adjustable louvres and slats, so you can control the amount of light and are also great for privacy and security,” adds White. “If you’re easily distracted, opt for a sheer roller blind. It’ll still let in plenty of light, but you can pull it down to block out distractions from the outside world when you need to focus.”

TIP: Set clear ground rules for your work space, such as asking family to knock before coming into your office, or respecting quiet time between certain hours. Make this easy, and visual, for young children by using a traffic light system (a green circle on the door means ‘come in’; yellow means ‘ask first’, and red means ‘do not disturb’).

stylish working at home decor

5. Dress the desk

One of the best things about working from home is not being in a stuffy, boring office. So why re-create that at home?

Instead, include pleasing decorative elements, such as a vase full of flowers and colourful storage pots, so you can enjoy the comforts of home all through the working hours.

TIP: Setting priorities is important in an office, and even more so when working from home, as doing so will help you stay on track and not get overwhelmed. Without a boss hovering or work-mates to bounce ideas off, it’s up to you to put your to-do list in order. Use technology to help, with mobile reminders and alerts.

6. Show who’s boss

A shade of dark green, paired with black furniture and office accessories, gives decor a strong visual impact and, crucially, creates a business-like look for an office. This is especially important if clients are going to visit and you want to convey a professional image.

TIP: Never skimp on expense when buying an office chair. After all, you may spend hours sitting on it, and it’s vital that it’s comfortable and fully adjustable so you avoid muscle strain and back pain.

stylish working at home decor

7. Black is back

Sleek, black furniture spells executive style, never dates, and you’ll win compliments for your chic taste.

TIP: A properly lit space is crucial to maintaining your mood, productivity and health. Bad lighting can strain eyes, especially if you’re staring at a bright screen in the dark. Layer light, so you can have clear overhead light if necessary, a decorative table lamp with a warm glow when you’re thinking rather than focusing, and always have an adjustable desk lamp so that paperwork is properly illuminated.