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As you know, I am not afraid to admit that a large amount of our furniture is from IKEA. If you’re smart about how you use each piece, you can’t beat it for affordable style. Well, IKEA has a new site where people share pictures of their IKEA purchases in situ. There are some great examples of stylish homes that use IKEA furnishings imaginatively. I particularly like this all-white home in Germany.

Great use of blackboard as cupboard doors.

I spy Ferm Living wallpaper offcuts…

More evidence (if we needed it) that an IKEA kitchen can look fabulous. I like the idea of using mosaic tiles to make the look less cookie-cutter. And, believe it or not, I blogged about using a ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster as a kitchen backsplash over a year ago – looks like someone else was way ahead of me!

A teeny tiny office space still manages to look airy with all that white shelving.

If you like checking out what real people around the world have done with their interior spaces, this is a good site to visit with lots of inspiring examples of creativity on a budget.


Since I started blogging, I’ve gained an appreciation for the importance of personal style in interior design. Even the most flawlessly-executed design is incomplete without the owner’s unique mark. There has to be a sense of history, a character, a feeling that life is lived within those four walls.

So today I’m starting a new series that peeks into the real life homes of our friends and family and appreciates not only some wonderful design choices, but also their highly individual styles. When you ask people about their homes, you find that there are stories behind almost every item. It makes you realize just how valuable our homes are to us – and not only in financial terms. Something worth remembering, especially in times like these…and especially for those of us obsessed with interior design and all the materialism that goes with it.

Anyway, enough of the philosophy and onto the houses. In this first post, I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos of a fabulous San Francisco house that combines great taste with a highly personal twist.

Living room

The house belongs to friends of ours, Alison and Eric and their two kids. It is an Edwardian home built in 1917, not dissimilar to ours in layout. It survived the 1989 earthquake intact so has nearly all its original moldings and rooms. This is the living room. The bookshelves were installed a few years back, replacing some very 90s granite, to cope with the family’s growing collection of books, games, art supplies etc. A wood fireplace surround was removed at the same time and the simple stucco one put in its place. This is pretty much the only significant remodeling that was done – and although it’s clean-lined and modern, it works because it still keys with the style of the house.

Living room

You can tell this is a creative, sociable family that loves art, music and travel (if you’re on their holiday card list you’re left in no doubt about the creative part!) The print above the fireplace is from a Louise Nevelson show that Alison’s father curated about 35 years ago – and it’s signed by the artist. I love it because it echoes the bookshelves perfectly.


The chairs either side of the fireplace are a stroke of genius. The red one is from IKEA. But the yellow one is actually a piece of art acquired in Germany over a generation ago. It’s made of an industrial spring and apparently is wonderful for lulling babies to sleep (as several babies in the family have discovered over the years). All I know is that these chairs are not good for the later stages of a party: after a few drinks the red one is impossible to get out of and the yellow one is impossible to stay in!


The painting over the sofa was another one from a show curated by Alison’s father more than three decades ago.

Living room

Here’s the dining room. This is a real lesson in color. The walls are a beautiful, vibrant green. The color has been continued onto the ceiling to show off the moldings, wainscoting and coved ceiling. You find these in a lot of the Edwardian houses in the area, although this is a particularly good example. The two Asian posters were from a flea market in San Francisco and are reproductions of pre-Mao Chinese advertisements, while the Air France one is from Paris. I asked about the tablecloth too and apparently it’s from Cost Plus!

Dining room

The stunning lamp was made by Alison’s step mother, Dez Ryan. You can see more of her lighting designs here. There are some real stand-out pieces – check out the Mint Condition collection. I like the way this particular one looks so perfect alongside the Nelson Saucer Bubble Lamp over the table. Here’s a closer look.

Dining room

Like our place, this home has a sunroom at the back of the house. Here the space has been painted this glorious sky blue. My photography really doesn’t do it justice (I’ve said before that these rooms are impossible to photograph). But you can get a hint of the architectural detail in these pictures below. There’s beautiful wainscoting all round the room. Often, homes in the area have this left as dark gumwood, but I think the white is much nicer.


Many of the photographs here were taken by Alison’s sister during her travels in India.


The stove and cabinets have all been left as they were when the family moved in. But the cabinet doors were all refaced by KitchenWorks. I love all the pots hanging down – I’ve only ever seen this done in enormous country kitchens with a central island but it works here.


From the kitchen you get a good view of the stained glass above the door. Again, this is original to the house. You can’t see it all but it depicts a windmill and hillsides. Apparently there are very few in the city that had this type of bucolic scene.


Lots of the houses around here have these carved details in the stair railings. Ours has heart shaped cut-outs (Pennsylvanian apparently)! I’m guessing they’re influenced by the Arts and Crafts style that was popular at the time, even for Edwardian style homes.


So, that’s the end of the tour. Hope you enjoyed it. I think this house just has so much personality. You can see how it would work for kids as well as entertaining (and, having experienced both, simultaneously, here, I can vouch for that!) This is not a place to tiptoe about and whisper in shushed tones. It’s a place to yell for more gravy on the table, thump out a few tunes on the piano (visitors that is, I believe this family is actually quite talented in the music department) or to help yourselves to cocktails. And here’s to that kind of interior design!

And, speaking of entertaining, I’m off to Julia‘s blog party again to see what everyone else has been up to this week.

CasaSugar has details of the new line of Flavor Paper wallpapers, debuted at BKLYN Designs this week. There are some real knock-outs: bright, fresh, drawing on tradition but with a definite twist. I like this one, Fruits of Design:


Love the gold pineapples too. I’ve seen a few of these around – including a brass one in my local antiques store, Past Perfect. I keep nearly buying it but then thinking it wouldn’t fit in our house.


Love the bold colors in this one. Oh, and I think that’s an IKEA chair. It looks pretty good next to the wallpaper, doesn’t it?

I like reading Apartment Therapy‘s ‘how to’ posts. Today AT Chicago has a post that’s particularly close to my heart – ‘how to avoid the catalog look at home’.

When we moved to the US seven years ago, we first lived in San Diego. We had visited a couple of months prior to scout out rentals and had managed to line up a nice townhouse in UTC, near La Jolla. But it was unfurnished. We were renting out our London house as a furnished property so shipped nothing more than a few clothes and books. Everything else stayed behind or went into storage. When we got to SD, we had just one weekend to furnish the entire place with the basics.

Knowing nothing about the city, or where to look for furniture stores, we went to IKEA. We bought beds, tables, chairs, sofas, kitchen equipment – just about everything – there. Then we had to personalize the place. Seven years on, we still have most of it and, although I love all the pieces we still have, I am constantly looking for ways to create an ‘un-IKEA look’. The fact is, though, as my experience shows, sometimes there is no option but to kit out your entire place from a catalog store. So, if you have to do it, here are my own tips for making it work.

Bring out the family photos

Luckily, shortly after we moved to the US, we got married so had tons of great photos to display. We bought multi-photo frames from Pottery Barn and created combinations of our favorites. One evening and a bottle of wine later, we had simple, but truly personal, art for our walls!

Stock up on books

When we moved, we had five books. Now we have three huge floor-to-ceiling shelves of them, plus three boxes in the garage (I’m intending to get more shelving for them). You can pick up dozens of secondhand paperbacks cheaply (or even new ones on special offer). They instantly make a place more personal and ‘lived in’. Now we feel like we have a history of our last seven years sitting on our book shelves.

Choose the catalog store carefully

I buy at all the usual favorites: IKEA, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel. But, to me, two stores really excel at offering unusual, eclectic products at a decent price: West Elm and Anthropologie. Here’s why:

Bridge coffee table

This is West Elm’s Bridge coffee table. It doesn’t exactly scream catalog to me.

Sheesham objects

These ‘Sheesham Objects’ are also from West Elm and would make a really personal touch to an office.

Jacoby bench

This is the Jacoby bench form Anthropologie. It looks like something picked up from your travels, not at all catalog.

Pillows as gifts

Whenever people asked what I wanted for Christmas or a birthday, I would tell them a pillow cover. It’s the easiest thing to mail overseas (you just buy the pillow itself locally) and you can always find a home for a gorgeous pillow. Even though we had limited time to travel beyond the London/San Diego (or London/San Francisco) route, it still looks as though we have been around the world because of the eclectic range of pillows we have.

Deck the walls with art

This isn’t an easy, or cheap, approach. But there is no doubt that, with a few personally-chosen pieces of art on the walls, you could furnish an entire home in IKEA and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, it would be the perfect backdrop. Instead of registering at a store when we were planning our wedding, we registered at Wills Art Warehouse in London. After the wedding we chose four spectacular paintings that we absolutely love and which have guided every design decision we’ve made since. Here are two of them.

The Wave painting

Pomegranates painting

My sister and her husband recently also moved from London to the US – they are in NYC. They had to fill an entire apartment from scratch in four weeks – in time for their first baby to arrive! Needless to say, IKEA played a starring role, but they also have a great collection of paintings, etchings and photos collected from their travels around the world. It makes their apartment look effortlessly stylish and really welcoming.

Apartment Therapy has more great tips here. At the end of the day, though, once you have the basics in place, it’s more about patience and being willing to let a home evolve around you over time. And there’s no quick-win solution to replace time.

My toddler is now old enough (and more than big enough) to move out of his crib into a bed. I’ve been hunting around for a modern white toddler bed that isn’t too expensive. From what I gather, you can never tell whether your child will actually stay in the bed you choose (even though he says he’s into the idea). And even once they are happy to sleep through the night in it, they’ve graduated to a twin bed before you know it. So there is absolutely no point in spending over $500 for this gorgeous Oeuf bed.


So what’s a good alternative? Well, here’s my short list.

First, the Da Vinci Modena bed. I found one for $210. It’s very simple and has the clean lines of the Oeuf bed, although not the cool curved edges. The best thing about it, though, is that it has a drawer underneath. We need that extra storage space.


The bed below is the Little Colorado Scalloped Star bed. is selling it for $150. I like the star motif but the scalloped edges are a bit twee for my liking. And there’s no drawer. Cute though.


This bed, the KidKraft modern toddler bed, was recommended on Apartment Therapy. I admit it is pretty cool – and only about $190. But it’s natural wood and I am rather set on white.


And so to my favorite option. Rather unimaginatively, it’s the IKEA choice. It’s called Kritter (so cute) and is only $89. No drawer, but look at the little sheep cut outs on the headboard. Provided the quality looks ok, I think this is the one. Sweet dreams…


For more inspiration, I like Apartment Therapy’s Ohdeedo blog and Remodelista which has some cool ideas for children’s rooms.

I’ll show pictures of my son’s room once the bed’s in place. Next stop, though, cute toddler bedding. $350 for a designer bedding set anyone?

To some, a home is just four walls and a roof. To others, it’s a showcase for a lifetime’s achievements. To a few, it’s a canvas for artistic expression. To me, it’s a refuge and a source of comfort. It’s also a lab for design experiments, some of which go well, many of which don’t.

That’s the real reason I started this blog: to record the changes in our home, capture the things that inspire those changes; and document the disasters so I never repeat them!

To some people, I suppose our home looks finished. Or maybe it looks like we’ve barely started. But to me, it’s a work in progress. So here are the first photos of our home – finished or otherwise.

Living room

We live in a San Francisco Edwardian. There are three stories, including the basement garage. The living room is at the front and is open to the hallway via a double-width arch. We’re lucky to have tons of natural light, with windows on two sides – although that does make it chilly on winter evenings. The sofas are from IKEA (when we moved to the US seven years ago, we had to furnish an entire apartment in a weekend so most of our basic items are from IKEA – and still going strong, I might add). The ottoman is from Pottery Barn and has been absolutely invaluable – there’s nothing better than kicking back in front of a movie with this as a footrest. Good for extra seating too when we entertain. The shades are raw silk from the Shade Store (excellent for reasonably-priced custom shades). The mirror and lamp are from Pier 1 and the apothecary chest is from Gingko, a little store in Soma that makes items to order for a great price – mostly from reclaimed wood. I also have a beautiful Louis chair (out of shot) covered in cream velvet, with silver gilt arms. It’s rather ornate but balances out the two boxy IKEA sofas. The challenge here is keeping the effect modern while indulging my preference for vintage, gilt and shiny things. Seems I’m constantly teetering between the two.

Living room / hallway

Ok, this shot is taken from the sofa under the bay window, looking through to the hallway and then dining room. Here’s the Louis chair. The painting is by Chris Hankey. We asked for contributions to an art gallery for our wedding gifts, and this was one of the pieces we eventually purchased. If there’s one thing in our home that helps me relax, it’s this.

Dining room

Dining room

The dining room wall color was a major change for us – it’s quite a cool blue/green/gray. It’s Iced Marble by Benjamin Moore and seems to change color depending on what you put next to it. But it looks great as a backdrop to the wave painting. The table is (of course) IKEA, but the chairs are from a, now closed, store on Fillmore Street. I loved the leather but couldn’t justify buying six of them so two are in a charcoal fabric instead. The sideboard, just seen, is from Gingko again. I had trouble deciding what to do with the front door, which is glass. I didn’t want to block out the light completely, but also didn’t want passersby peering in while we ate our dinner in the evening. The laser-cut paper screen by Tord Boontje seemed to be a good solution – and, somehow, we’ve managed to prevent our toddler from tearing it to shreds.

Just off the dining room is a tiny sitting area, which we use as a playroom. I’ve already shared my excitement about the West Elm zigzag rug in an earlier post: I’m loving how it contrasts with the more somber dining room.

Master bedroom

This is the master bedroom. It’s above the living room so we get the same great light. But we had to invest in extremely well-lined drapes and shades to keep the warmth in in winter. The bed is IKEA again, as are the lamps. I feel like we should replace the lamps with something more visible against the light-colored drapes. But the light they give is so warm it’s perfect for a bedroom so I can’t bear to part with them. The pomegranate painting was another wedding gift and was the inspiration for the colors in this room.

Bedroom dresser

Ok, I’m no stylist. But I like to see this little collection of things on our dresser in the mornings. The photos are of my father as a child, the handheld silver mirror (lying flat) was an 18th birthday present, the mother-of-pearl inlaid mirror is from Wisteria and was a source of much soul-searching (should we really spend the money?) but it was the best price I’d found for this type of mirror and I absolutely love it. The domino box is also from Wisteria and was a present from my sister (with some strong hints…). The large paper flower was made by my two-year-old at his daycare and is, quite frankly, the best thing about this collection (in my humble, doting-parent, opinion!)

Guest room

Last but not least, the guest room. The photograph isn’t great, but the room itself is really relaxing to be in. The wall color is Morning Dew by Benjamin Moore – a really pale, creamy green. The drapes are white linen and from the Shade Store again. The bedside tables were an absolute find for $140 each in a local antiques store (Past Perfect on Union Street – same place I got the Louis chair). Somehow they work with the IKEA bed and lamps. The rug is from South Africa, a gift from my parents.

In another post, I’ll try to show some pics of the nursery, office and kitchen. The latter is definitely a work in progress – we’re contemplating a renovation.

So, that’s our home. I hope it provides some ideas – even if only what not to do!

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.

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