Play with the Power of Pink for Punchy Settings at Home

pink house living

Gabrielle Fagan catches up with the The Pink House's Emily Murray, to discover how to harness the prettiest colour of the rainbow.

Once cast aside as ‘girly’, the colour pink is fast shaping up to be the hottest shade for interiors.

Sugary pinks through to snazzy scarlets, pretty peaches and even funky neons are the winning shades on the palette this season.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pink is just for girls. Not any more it isn’t,” declares Emily Murray, creator of award-winning blog, The Pink House, which celebrates the colour in all its hues in her own pink decorated home.

pink house living

It’s been such a success since she started it three years ago (she has more than 60,000 followers on Instagram) that her new book, Pink House Living: For People Cheating On Fashion With Furniture, was a natural follow-on. It’s a brilliant guide to seeing the world through ‘rose-tinted’ decor spectacles.

Stepping inside her home is proof of pink’s magic – she shows me around rooms which ooze personality, thanks to the magical touches of her “all-time favourite colour”.

pink house living

Pink painted walls, a pink kitchen island, neon pink signs, splashes of pink to highlight period features, as well as an array of punchy pink accessories, are just some of the ways in which the colour has a starring role in her schemes.

Yet with her skill and sense of style, she makes it sing – rather than dominate or shock – in her Edwardian semi, and this uber-cool interior leaves you wondering why you’ve never thought of using pink more.

pink house living

The mother-of-two is always hot on the trail of perfect pink homes, and her book features an array of brilliant pink settings from around the world, as well as her own rooms.

Even she’s surprised her own pink passion is so widely shared. “I’d underestimated the power of pink. It turns out it’s incredibly popular on every level and in every way. We love pink,” says Murray delightedly.

“We love it on front doors, on walls and on rugs. We love it on Instagram, in magazines and in fabric charts. We love it in barely-there blush, fuchsia and neon.”

pink house living

For those fearing a pink overload, she stresses that embracing the shade “doesn’t mean I like all my rooms dressed in floor-to-ceiling fuchsia… Even when I have free rein to decorate exactly as I chose, I exercise pink restraint.

“For me, the key to making the most of this joyous colour – for I fully believe that pink has an amazing power to make people happy – is using it in moderation.”

pink house living

In the living room, her dream was fabric walls, saturated colours, pattern clashes, loads of luxe and plenty of pink.

“My aim was to turn a north-facing space into a cosy place for cuddling up in the evenings, but with a rock and roll twist.”

She’s achieved it with a “pink ‘play’ neon sign – a copy of my own handwriting – made to order”, as well as a cocktail bar created from a corner cabinet upcycled in green and gold leaf. Hidden LED light strips give it the impression of glowing from within.

pink house living

For those who fancy taking the plunge, she advises: “If you want more colour at home (it doesn’t have to be pink) simply choose your favourite shade and go for it.

“Make a scrapbook or Pinterest board of settings with colourful decor which naturally attracts you. You don’t need to design the whole room at once – start with a piece of art or wallpaper and then slowly add further changes, so a room develops.”

“There are so many ways to use pink,” adds Murray. “You can accentuate a particular architectural feature, piece of furniture or art work, and sometimes simply use it to allow another gorgeous colour to shine.”

Pink House Living: For People Cheating On Fashion With Furniture by Emily Murray, photography by Susie Lowe, is published by Ryland Peters & Small, priced £19.99. Available now

pink house living

Innovative, Eco-Friendly and Smart: Check Out the Gardening Products of the Year

Chelsea garden product of the year

From eco-friendly home composters to super quick pizza ovens and inventive garden lighting, we look at 7 garden products of the year.

Want a composter with a difference? Or a light that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker? Or even a pot or seed tray made from bamboo?

These are just some of the finalists for the RHS Chelsea Product of the Year title which may take your fancy in the coming months, whether you’re looking for the practical, the sustainable or the high tech.

Here are 7 clever products which have impressed the RHS judges:

Chelsea garden product of the year

1. Obelisk Composter and Obelisk (£39 composter, £59 obelisk, wilstone.com)

This ingenious invention launching at RHS Chelsea Flower Show features a galvanised mild steel compost bin which you put directly on to your flower bed or in your vegetable patch, and an elegant obelisk which goes over it which you can use as a support for anything from climbing beans to sweet peas or clematis.

You scoop compostable waste directly into the drum and the resulting compost inside then feeds the growing plants directly into their roots without you having to lift or carry the compost anywhere.

Chelsea garden product of the year

2. Cuba LED lantern and combined Bluetooth speaker (£249, lightinnovation.com)

Shed a little light on your patio and enjoy music at the same time with this new lantern and combined Bluetooth speaker, which will be available from the end of May.

It’s highly portable and can be used indoors or out, recharging from 0 to 100% in six hours. The dimmable 7 watt LED light will work for up to eight hours on one charge and the lantern will connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device, from a phone to a tablet.

Chelsea garden product of the year

3. Swan Watering Can (£8, madewithhusk.com)

With an emphasis on sustainability, this swan-shaped indoor watering can (to be launched on May 20) is fully biodegradable and made from 75% waste bamboo powder collected directly from farms. Testing has shown that the product can last up to seven years, although this was based on a pot that had been left outside, so it’s likely that if kept indoors, it will last longer.

Chelsea garden product of the year

4. Hotbin mini (£150, hotbincomposting.com)

Following in the footsteps of the award-winning Hotbin which can transform your food and garden waste into rich compost within 30-90 days, its smaller sister, the Hotbin mini (launching at Chelsea) does the same thing but is easier to house in smaller gardens.

It reaches temperatures of 40-60C which allows the efficient composting of more types of waste, more quickly. All food and garden waste can be added in, including cooked food, small bones and perennial weeds.

It’s also sealed well enough, with a bio-filter in the lid, to stop odours that can attract rats and flies. Add a bulking agent such as wood chippings to aid the process.

Chelsea garden product of the year

5. ‘Grande’ Plant Belles (from £53, will be available to order from Chelsea plantbelles.co.uk)

To mark the company’s 10th year of trading, it is launching three new ‘grande’ plant belles, elegant but robust steel wire frames to support larger freestanding herbaceous plants, unruly shrub roses and other floppy heavy headed shrubs like Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’.

The new taller, wider and heavier plant belles are inspired by the Sissinghurst method of training shrub roses, offering needy plants support once grown through, but also give the gardener the chance to prune and train shrubby plants in creative ways, by looping and tying branches back to the structure.

Chelsea garden product of the year

6. Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Outdoor pizza oven (£244.99, uk.ooni.com)

If you love eating pizza in the open air and you don’t want to wait too long, you may invest in this smart, sleek pizza oven which you can assemble in seconds, place on your patio and have a pizza ready in 60 seconds.

Flip open the foldable legs, put the stone baking board into the oven, connect it to a gas tank and pre-heat the oven for 15 minutes. It reaches temperatures of up to 500C, which is why it can cook your pizza so quickly. It has a clean, streamlined silhouette paired with one-touch gas ignition for easy, convenient outdoor cooking.

Chelsea garden product of the year

7. Bamboo Pots and Seed Trays (£3.99-£6.99, www.haxnicks.co.uk)

Continuing the eco-friendly theme and the war on plastics, these bamboo pots and seed trays from Haxnicks are made from bamboo and rice, can be used indoors or outdoors and are reputed to last for five years or more. They’re also biodegradable and compostable, so give a feelgood factor to gardeners who really care about their environment.

Open Day Invitation To View New Homes In Eversley Hampshire

We’re on site tomorrow Saturday 4th May between 10am and 3pm, so this is an ideal opportunity to view the stunning new homes by Aspire in Eversley Hampshire.

map

The site is easy to find by using postcode RG27 0PA and / or having a look at the map below. Telephone our Hartley Wintney branch on 01252 842100 for further help.

Prices from around £600,000 to £1.2m.

Invite to view new houses in Eversley Hampshire

Kate Humble on Throwaway Culture, Polluting Plastics and What we can Learn from Rwanda

Luke Rix-Standing chats with Kate Humble about the challenges facing the environment, and finds her in polemical form...

With six years of Springwatch, three seasons of Lambing Live and a succession of BBC nature programmes under her belt, Kate Humble has become an ever-present face on the greener bits of British television.

She’s the perfect person with whom to sit and chat about the world, because over the course of her career, she’s seen most of it. She got her first taste of adventure aged 19 with a nine-month, solo trip across the African continent, and she’s barely paused for breath since.

Naturalist, naturist, and former president of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), Humble is under no illusions about the state of the planet. She is, to put it mildly, not best pleased about it.

What exactly is ‘throwaway culture’?

“We’ve got into a terrible habit of buying things and throwing away the packaging. Plastic pots, coffee cups – and almost everything we buy for our homes. Obviously some is necessary, but a lot isn’t.

“I’ve been very lucky and travelled to lots of different parts of the world – some countries which, some might say, are not as developed as the UK. But they certainly don’t generate the amount of waste and rubbish that we do

Do you think it’s a particularly British problem?

“No, I think it is a developed world problem. We’ve become a society that seems to value convenience over everything else, and with that comes a lot of waste.

“I went to Rwanda a couple of years ago – a country with an astonishingly brutal history – and there was something about it I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I realised that it’s the cleanest place I’ve ever been.

“The President has banned plastic bags – you can’t use them, you can’t bring them in, they’re just banned – and this in a country that suffered a genocide 25 years ago! It’s so sad that somewhere rubbish-free is so startlingly noticeable, but if they can do that, why can’t we?”

What is the impact? How do you quantify the damage?

“Well, there’s the terrible reality of landfill. There is only so much land and we’re filling it with rubbish. All the stuff that can’t be recycled sits in the Earth and gradually breaks down, and all the chemicals seep into the soil.

“Rubbish that gets dumped in the sea ends up on beaches, and we’ve all seen the effect that has on wildlife. The turtles that have died because they’ve got plastic bags stuck in their gullets, the heartbreaking shots of albatross chicks that are starving because they’ve got plastic beads in their stomachs.

“We need to have a whole cultural shift in the way that we behave. The thing that really makes me furious is that we know how damaging this is. If there are still human beings on this planet in 200 years time, which I slightly hope there aren’t, they’re going to look back at our generation and go, ‘What the f***?’

“It’s really bad for us – we’re poisoning the very environment we rely on. Shouldn’t that matter enough? Apparently not.”

So, how would you go about countering it, and creating this cultural shift?

“Just get rid of humans – my husband is terrified that the world will one day wake to find me as their dictator! Joking apart, we are making changes and I don’t want to get too gloomy, but we’re not doing things fast enough and we’ve all got to commit.

“Do I really need to buy something in a plastic pot? Can I buy coffee in my own recycled mug? Can I reuse this packaging? Do we need to buy endless new clothes every season? No, we don’t – there’s plenty in your wardrobe that’s still nice. I’m wearing a pair of knickers I don’t even want to tell you how old!

“You can be really happy without loads of stuff. Nature is remarkable at clawing its way back every time we do something catastrophic, but there will come a point where it won’t be able to fix things any more. We’ve got to take some responsibility.”

Some have argued that the focus on individuals takes the spotlight off companies and governments. Do you think there’s a problem there?

“I do, but a lot of these big businesses are dependent on us, as consumers, for their very existence. Without doubt, it’s consumers – ordinary people – who have pushed the plastic revolution onto the political agenda.

“Of course big companies should do more, but they will do more if we say, ‘Right, we’re not going to buy from that big company any more’. We do have power as individuals and we should absolutely exercise it.

“Some of us, myself included, have been banging on about plastic for 20 or 30 years, so it’s weird that it’s suddenly come into the public consciousness now. There’s been programmes and films and startling images before. I mean it’s brilliant – hooray – but strange.”

Any idea why that might be?

“I don’t know, but I do think that in times of political turmoil, life feels uncertain. Young people are getting to the end of their school days and thinking ‘what does the future hold for me?’

“We’re seeing a slow realisation that its in our hands, and climate change has begun affecting all of us, regardless of where we live. Maybe, just maybe, some consciousness is creeping in. Now we need to do something about it.”

Kate Humble has recently helped launch the Dettol Trigger Project, to inspire people to make small changes to reduce household waste and trigger a cleaner world.

Buying a new Home? Phil Spencer Reveals the Warning Signs to Walk Away from.

property warning signs

It's all about Information, Information, Information, says the property guru.

Ever moved into a new house and realised that your new neighbour is the drummer for an amateur metal band? Or snapped up a new pad only to discover that the bedroom turns into a swamp every time it rains?

We sincerely hope the answer is no, but given how complex, difficult and murky property deals can be, that may be more by luck than judgement.

Property expert and investor Phil Spencer has headed up Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location alongside Kirstie Allsopp for almost two decades, and has now set up Move IQ, a website that uses complex algorithms to produce 45-page status reports on properties.

He took some time away from the cameras to comb through the real estate red flags that should make you dig a little deeper – if not send you running for the door.

property warning signs

Cautionary tales

We don’t want to alarm you, but there are a lot of traps you can fall into when assessing a property. “I know of one sale where the buyer didn’t do their research,” says Spencer, “and bought a house without realising the neighbours were running a business with 24-hour deliveries.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and Spencer is full of anecdotes about property purchases that went pear-shaped. “I’ve worked on several cases of buying a house from a divorcing couple, when you find out later that the person still in the house doesn’t want to sell. That makes for an extremely complicated negotiation.”

“There are lots of examples of people buying houses, and then finding out that the right permissions weren’t in place for building work done by the previous owner. If a house has probate, that can be complicated… Honestly, it’s a minefield.”

The very last thing you want at the sharp end of a property deal is a sudden, nasty surprise. So, how can you ensure you don’t end up as another anecdote on Phil Spencer’s list?

property warning signs

Knowledge is power

Unfortunately, the most worrying warning signs are the ones you can’t see. “Your priority is misinformation,” says Spencer, “you need all your info to be as accurate as possible, and it will come primarily from the estate agent and the vendor. Ask direct questions, ask them again, and then ask the same questions of different people.”

We wouldn’t want to cast any aspersions, but you can take it as read that estate agents aren’t going to lead with the negatives.

“The key thing,” says Spencer, “is to ascertain why the house is being sold. People often try to muddy the waters and it’s up to you to get to the bottom of it. Have they outgrown the house, are there financial reasons, or is there an argument with a neighbour?”

“There are plenty of valid reasons for selling, but it’s going to come down to negotiation, and you want to know how motivated the vendor is to do the deal. Will they want to conclude quickly, and how willing might they be to agree to a price reduction?”

Once you’ve got a number on the seller, you can turn your attention to the house itself. “You need to understand the marketing history,” says Spencer. “Is there any interest, has anybody made an offer, and has anybody had a survey done?” If the house has been on the market for six months under a different agent, undergone repeated surveys and fallen through three times, then that’s need-to-know information.

Next up is the price – is it reasonable? “The internet has made making comparisons easier than ever, but you need to be sure you’re looking at fairly recent sales,” says Spencer. “Pounds per square foot is a useful rough guide; work it out for the property you’re interested in, and compare with others in the area.”

“Remember, this is just a rule of thumb, and takes no account of condition, views, garden, and so on.”

property warning signs

Buyers and sellers

You and your vendor don’t need to be bosom buddies – or even make each other’s Christmas card lists – but there’s a certain amount of trust at the heart of every sale.

“You don’t have to go for dinner and drinks, but you want to know that they’re selling you the truth,” says Spencer. “If you ask a direct question, you need to be confident you’re getting an honest, if probably gilded, answer.”

Unmotivated sellers can spell trouble – last-minute mind-changing can be infuriating and costly – and be wary of overly-canny sellers straining every sinew to show their house at it’s best. “If the table is laid for dinner, there’s fresh bread baking, and the smell of percolating coffee,” says Spencer, “keep your wits about you!”

“I’ve also seen examples of sellers stowing things in storage to make their house look roomy enough for children and two adults. There is, if you move half your stuff out.”

Beware stubbornness, not just in your vendor but in yourself. “Sometimes people become ‘principled’ in property negotiations,” Spencer says. “It’s not the time – if you’re paying good money for something, don’t fall out over a loo seat or a fridge. I’ve seen little things like that derail massive property deals – just respect that it’s someone’s home and they can get a bit emotional.”

property warning signs

Bricks and mortar

For many, a house viewing involves scouring every nook and cranny for dry rot, blue tack stains and missing roof tiles, but for Spencer, such practical pitfalls are a secondary concern. “I wouldn’t get overly het up about it,” he says, “the surveyor will come in and give the house the once over.”

“If it’s of interest, by all means go over the house with a fine tooth comb – you can easily see for yourself if the windows are rotting, there are cracks in the walls or the bath leaks. Just remember, there’s nothing wrong with any of these – so long as it’s reflected in the price.”

Much more important are pre-existing works and renovations, and the paperwork surrounding them: “If you do end up negotiating, you want to be able to warn your surveyor and solicitor about any extensions, because you’ll need the forms and permissions that support that work.”

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.

About to be a First Time Parent like Meghan and Harry? 5 tips for Baby-Proofing your Home

From stair gates to non-slip mats and locking the oven, there's lots you can do to make your home more baby-friendly.

baby proofing your home

One can only imagine the challenges involved in baby-proofing a royal residence. Fitting stairwells with the world’s widest baby gates; locking down toilet seats in 78 separate bathrooms – well, Buckingham Palace has 78, but the Duke and Duchess of Sussex won’t have quite that many to contend with, when they take their baby back to their new home in Windsor.

baby proofing your home

Still, whether you’re a royal or a regular Joe, baby-proofing your home for new arrivals can be a pretty big task. Your little prince or princess might spend all day, every day snoozing at first – but they’ll soon hit curious mode, wanting to clamber on, poke and explore everything possible.

“More than a million children are taken to hospital every year in the UK because of accidents in the home,” says Lorna Marsh, senior editor and parenting expert at BabyCentre. “Falls are the most common accidents, and you need to minimise hazards before your baby starts crawling.”

So where to start? Here are five tips for ensuring your home is a baby-friendly zone…

baby proofing your home

1. Prepare early

A couple of points to note up front: First of all, no amount of baby-proofing can substitute for watchful supervision, so don’t let gadgets lull you into a false sense of security. Many a baby gate has been scaled by an enterprising infant, and some youngsters make a habit of turning up in unexpected places.

Secondly, it’s never too early to start thinking about baby-proofing. Young children tend to grow alarmingly quickly and by the time they’re crawling, you want to be confident with your new safety features. Getting the job done is much simpler when you’re not knee-deep in nappies and battling sleepless nights, so it’s a good idea all round to prepare early.

Before you begin, it’s worth getting on your hands and knees to get a child’s eye view of your home. Are there any edges or corners that look threatening, or furniture that’s invitingly climbable? Silly though it may sound, this is a worthy way to identify potential trouble spots before your child starts to explore.

baby proofing your home

2. Consider how things look from toddler height

Start with the big stuff. Any furniture that can topple (bookcases, we’re looking at you), should be fastened to the wall securely with furniture straps or brackets, while tall, unstable lamps should ideally be removed. Attach cushioned corner protectors to desks and coffee tables to avoid painful bumps and bangs.

“A new arrival means you’ll see your home in a whole new light,” says Marsh. “Things that you took no notice of before suddenly become a potential danger.” Cupboards should be sorted into safe and not-safe, and the latter latched with baby locks.

There are some obvious things to keep out of reach – knives, medicines, cleaning products and so on – but even apparently innocuous items can represent a risk if not considered carefully. House plants, for example, can be poisonous if nibbled on, and even the harmless ones are often potted in earth or dirt that might look appetising to a curious bub.

Beware the chest of drawers – you may think it’s a safe place for your unsecured television to sit on, but adventurous children use drawers for climbing practice, and anything heavy on top can topple off, potentially ending in serious trauma.

baby proofing your home

3. Make stairs and windows safe

If there are stairs in your home, baby gates are essential – consider installing one at the top and bottom of the stairs. It only takes a second for a littl’un to scale a set of steps!

Window blind cords can be particularly dangerous for children and must never be overlooked. “Replace corded window blinds with cordless ones,” says Marsh, “and put stickers on glass doors to make them visible to your child. Fit window locks, and never open them wide enough for a crawling baby to get out.”

Electrical cables represent trip, choke and entanglement hazards for small children, so use cord holders to fasten them to the walls.

baby proofing your home

4. Check every room

Once you’ve dealt with the basics, give your whole house a systematic sweep. Different dwellings pose different dangers, and the only way to know that you’ve got everything is to take a proper stock-check yourself.

The bathroom is one of the most perilous places for a tot who’s just finding their feet. An infant can drown in just 5cm of water, so invest in a baby bath seat and never, ever leave a bathing baby unsupervised. Toilet seat locks are a must too, and you can prevent scalding by adding soft covers on bath taps and spouts. Wobbly babies and slippery surfaces don’t mix, so put down some non-slip mats in tiled areas.

The kitchen is also high on the danger-o-meter. Avoid place mats and tablecloths on dining tables (an inquisitive child will tug on them, and bring the table’s contents crashing down), and make sure your oven is always safely locked, with covers on anything likely to get hot to the touch.

Sitting rooms can be deceptively hazardous, especially those with fireplaces. “Fit smoke alarms and keep a fire extinguisher nearby if you have a fireplace,” says Marsh. “By law, you must have a fireguard, and keep matches and lighters out of your child’s reach.

“In the bedroom, make sure your baby’s cot or Moses basket is sleep-safe,” she adds. “And, if you have a cat, put a cat net over [the baby’s bed].”

baby proofing your home

5. Think about how you’re using your home too

Making alternations is vital – but think about how you’re doing things around the home too. Is there a more child and baby-safe way to adapt everyday tasks?

For example, cook on the wall-side hobs if you have them (they’re further from reach!), and keep kitchen appliances away from children where possible. “Keep mugs of hot drinks away from edges,” adds Marsh. “And when cooking, make sure that the handles of saucepans are turned away from the edge.”

Be sure to unplug appliances like irons (we should all be doing this anyway!), and remember that visitors to your home may not be holding their habits to the same standards.

Be careful what you throw away too, as some babies are relentless scavengers. “Old batteries, plastic bags and sharp objects should be discarded safely,” says Marsh. Toys like Lego are well-established choking hazards, and the same goes for items like marbles, coins and paperclips.

“Keep plastic bags, including nappy bags, well out of reach of your child,” she adds, “and make sure pens, scissors, letter openers, staplers and other sharp instruments are kept in locked drawers.”

Even when they’re clear of all apparent danger, crawling children are still wiping their mitts on the floor, so it’s important to keep a hygienic home too. If you don’t already, enforce a no-shoes policy inside the house, and clean regularly to keep your surfaces germ-free (you don’t need a gleaming show home, of course – we’re just talking about getting the important basics done).

Make a Splash for Wildlife: Here’s how to Create your own Mini-Pond

As charities focus this year's Wild About Gardens challenge on ponds, this step-by-step guide will help you build your own pocket-sized pool.

create mini pond

Fancy a pond but don’t have much space? Now’s your chance to make waves with a mini-pond – which will not only look pretty, but will also attract beneficial insects and other wildlife to your plot.

Gardeners across the UK are being urged to encourage wildlife with water, as ponds form this year’s Wild About Gardens challenge, from The Wildlife Trusts and the RHS.

The UK has lost ponds, rivers and streams at a rapid rate, and only a small amount of our natural ponds and wetlands remain, the charities warn.

Helen Bostock, senior horticultural advisor at the RHS, observes: “Even cheap container ponds made from upcycled materials will quickly be colonised by a whole host of creatures, and help form a living chain of aquatic habitats across the neighbourhood.”

Here’s how to build a mini-pond yourself…

create mini pond

1. Choose your spot

Your mini-pond will need some sunlight, but not full sunlight all day. Make sure it’s in shade for some of the time. Light shade is fine and will reduce water loss. If you are thinking of placing it under a tree, a few fallen leaves aren’t a worry. However, heavy shade under a tree, together with lots of leaves blowing in, isn’t a good spot for a container pond.

A patio is ideal as it’s where you are likely to spend time watching all the wildlife come and go. But remember to add a wildlife ramp inside and out, and ideally cluster with other pots so amphibians such as frogs have a little cover while coming and going.

The best way to create shade is with another plant or two (they can be in pots), perhaps a Japanese maple or some tall grasses.

2. What type of container is best?

Be creative – is there anything you could upcycle, such as a washing-up bowl, wheelbarrow basin, sawn-off plastic dustbin, half barrel, rubber trug, large plant pot or sink?

You can easily recycle an old sink or bowl, but make sure it’s watertight. If you are using a garden container that has drainage holes in the bottom, use a piece of pond liner to cover the holes.

Unglazed terracotta containers may lose water through the sides very slowly, though quicker on hotter days. It depends on the quality of the terracotta. There will be a degree of water loss through evaporation, whatever the container.

Your pond will need a wide ‘neck’ so wildlife can get in and out. Other than that, the shape really doesn’t matter. Sink your pond or add a ramp for creatures to access.

create mini pond

3. Choose the right plants

Water forget-me-not and flowering rush are pretty. Other suitable specimens include waterlily (Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’), Lesser spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) and Starwort (Callitriche stagnalis).

Avoid anything that is too invasive or vigorous. Water soldier and sweet flag are unsuitable for small ponds.

4. Place your plants in baskets

Place aquatic plants in baskets lifted up to the correct level of the water by standing them on bricks, stones or other pots. Aquatic baskets are ideal as they allow plenty of water flow around the roots, although normal planting pots can work too.

Use aquatic compost, which can be bought from specialist aquatic nurseries. This is heavy (so plants won’t float away) but low in nutrients (so the water won’t turn green with algae).

create mini pond

5. Fill your mini-pond with rainwater

Install a water butt to collect rainwater with which to fill your pond, and continue to use this water to top up if levels drop. Check on levels a couple of times a week in hot weather and top up as needed.

But don’t panic – even if the levels drop to half way, most creatures will survive. If desperate, just use tap water, but this contains nutrients so it’s not a good idea to regularly top up with this.

You won’t need a pump in a mini-pond to stop the water stagnating. It may go a little green at first or before the plants fill out, but it will settle down.

6. Tackle weed problems

If you get blanket weed, remove it by hand or use a barley straw extract available from pond specialist companies. Water in a wildlife pond will usually settle into a balance without needing a lot of treatments.

For more information, download the Big or Small, Ponds for All booklet – a step-by-step guide to creating the perfect pond at Wild About Gardens (wildaboutgardens.org.uk).

create mini pond

Confused about Retirement Savings? 7 Popular Pension Myths Busted!

With the next phase of automatic enrolment starting from April, Alistair McQueen from Aviva separates facts from fiction.

The minimum amounts that can be put into workplace pensions will be stepped up from April, as UK savers are encouraged to put aside more for their retirement.

Under automatic enrolment rules, from April 6, the minimum that can be put in by employers and their staff will increase from 5% of qualifying earnings to 8%. Within the new 8% rate, at least 3% must be paid by the employer, with the remaining 5% made up by staff.

Automatic enrolment started in autumn 2012, amid concerns people were living for longer but not saving enough for their later years. “Automatic enrolment is approaching its seventh birthday. In its short life, it has already brought a quiet revolution to pensions in the UK,” says Alistair McQueen, head of savings and retirement at Aviva.

Pensions are not always easy to understand, though, and there’s still a lot of confusion around them for lots of people. Do you feel unsure of the facts? Here, McQueen busts seven pensions myths…

busting pension myths

Myth 1: No one is saving into a pension

Automatic enrolment has introduced more than 10 million new savers to workplace pensions since 2012. There are now a total of 22 million people participating in workplace pensions in the UK.

Myth 2: Pensions are for old people

Contrary to popular perception, it is the under-30s who are leading the way. All ages have seen an increase in workplace pension participation since 2012, but the under-30s have seen the biggest increase – more than doubling from 35% saving to over 79% by 2018.

busting pension myths

Myth 3: The government will pay for all my retirement

It’s true that we can expect some money in retirement from the state, but this is currently up to a maximum of about £8,500 every year. Today, the majority of the typical retirees’ income in retirement is from sources beyond the state, such as private pensions and other savings.

Myth 4: I will receive my state pension from age 60 if I’m a woman, or 65 if I’m a man

These commonly referred to and long-standing ages were set decades ago, when we could generally expect a few short years in retirement. Since then, average life expectancy has greatly increased, and the age at which we are eligible for our state pension has been increasing, with women starting to qualify for their state pension at the same age as men.

The state pension age is set to keep rising too. The yourpension.gov.uk website can help you check your state pension age.

busting pension myths

Myth 5: I can’t retire until I reach my state pension age

We are free to retire whenever we want to. However, we can only really think about retiring when we feel we have saved enough money to meet our needs when we’re not working. New rules allow people to access private pensions from age 55 – but the state pension age is set by government.

As individuals, we have the freedom to choose our retirement age, but this brings with it a responsibility to ensure we can fund our lifestyle from that point onward. There are many free online resources to help make this decision – such as Aviva’s ‘My retirement planner’ (aviva.co.uk/retirement/tools/my-retirement-planner).

Myth 6: I’m the only one who is confused by pensions

Research suggests only a minority of us feel we really understand pensions. So, if you’re feeling a bit uncertain, you’re not alone. The great news is that more of us are saving for our future. And if you’re looking for a little nudge in the right direction, Aviva suggests three general rules of thumb that could help you be better prepared:

1. Save at least 12.5% of earnings towards your retirement. This can include money from your employer and the taxman.

2. If possible, start saving at least 40 years before your target retirement age.

3. Try to have built up at least 10 times your salary in your pension by the time you retire.

busting pension myths

Myth 7: Retirement is further away than ever

There’s still a collapse in workplace participation as we progress through our 50s. This represents a huge waste of talent, experience and potential. One of the strongest levers we can pull to help fund our lives in retirement is to work longer. Many employers are taking fresh steps to support a fuller working life, with the aim of ensuring that age is no barrier to opportunity.

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.

Tempted to Renovate your Home? TV’s Kunle Barker shares 4 Top Tips for getting started.

The Renovate Don't Relocate regular imparts some insider wisdom for tackling a big project.

Current weather patterns might be trying to trick us into thinking otherwise, but it is now officially spring – so what better time to cultivate your own little bit of domestic rebirth?

With house prices constantly rising, home renovation is an increasingly common option for those seeking a significant change, without the immense expense or hassle of moving. Of course, a big project like renovating can add serious value to your property too, or simply provide the extra space or refresh you’ve been dreaming of.

how to start renovation Kunle Barker

But renovating is no flat-pack wardrobe, and for the vast majority it’s not a DIY affair – so where do you start?

Step forward Kunle Barker, presenter of ITV’s Love Your Home And Garden’ with Alan Titchmarsh, expert on Renovate Don’t Relocate with Sarah Beeny, and host of Grand Designs Live with Kevin McCloud.

Renovations are a big task – but Barker has handled a fair few, all under the rigorous glare of TV cameras. Here are his top tips for getting started…

how to start renovation Kunle Barker

1. Assemble your team carefully

“Always hire the most skilled person for the job. That means choosing an accredited architect who will not only be able to help you imagine your ‘grand design’, but deliver it on time and to budget, without compromising on quality.

“Choose a good, reliable and stable builder with a track record you can trust. Your architect will be able to recommend someone (ideally someone they have already worked with) who will deliver good value for money.

“Ensure your builder provides you with an itemised quotation, and your architect with a schedule of work and full specifications (for materials and fittings). This will allow you to make a thorough assessment your pricing.

“Even with recommendations from your architect, make sure you contact your selected builder’s referees directly, and try to visit a live site they are working on. Don’t be afraid to ask their referees lots of questions about the project delivery!”

how to start renovation Kunle Barker

2. Set up clear boundaries for the project

“It’s imperative that you get the right contract established for the project. Your architect will be able to help you with this. It will cost extra but it’s absolutely essential for establishing terms such as payment clauses.

“Should you employ a project manager? Yes, ideally an independent project manager from a construction consultancy – it will end up saving you money in the long run and will help the programme to run to schedule.

“Set your parameters for success (this could be defined by quality of work, budget and timescale) and communicate these to everyone in the project team. Your architect, builder, project manager and suppliers all need to understand what you are working towards.”

2019 money financial predictions

3. Supervise – and keep an eye out for ways to cost-cut

“Price check, negotiate and place bulk orders with suppliers where possible. For smaller items and sundries (screws, fixings, brackets, etc), shop around and split them from bulk orders if necessary, in order to get the best price.

“Control your budget carefully by linking it to your programme, having weekly meetings with your project manager, and always adding contingency as backup.

“Design hacks, such as better storage solutions (instead of an extension), lowering windows (instead of widening), changing materials and updating your kitchen can deliver amazing results at much lower cost.”

how to start renovation Kunle Barker

4. Don’t underestimate the final touches

“Final touches – like adding mirrors, flashes of colour, statement furniture and fabrics – can have transformative effects on your space. Don’t be afraid to play around with what you like and try to work creatively with what you have. Statement pieces mean you don’t need to get rid of your existing things to radically change the feel of a room.

“And don’t forget the garden. They are often the most neglected parts of properties and offer the opportunity to provide a natural extension of your home – add colour and decoration with planting and accessories.

“Lighting is fundamental to the feel of a space – never underestimate the value of getting this right. The key is flexibility – you want to be able to light the room in several different ways – and lamps are a great way to deliver this and create atmosphere.”

how to start renovation Kunle Barker

Kevin McCloud and Kunle Barker will be appearing at Grand Designs Live at London’s ExCeL from May 4-12. For more information and tickets, visit granddesignslive.com.

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.

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.