Category Archives: design

Grand Design for sale

If you caught the recently aired episode of Grand Designs that showed a hexagonal, oak-framed eco house being built in the Cambridgeshire fens, you might be interested to know it is up for sale.

Eco house from Grand DesignsFor anyone not in the UK, Grand Designs is a TV programme that follows ambitious, elegaic, one-of-a-kind house building projects – from the burning eyed optimists clutching architects drawings at the beginning of a build to the broken husks they become at the end. They get worn down by endless problems like the custom-made windows from Germany being millimetres too large for the spaces, or (as always seems to happen) the wife gets pregnant halfway through the build and suddenly any delay to the schedule means she will have to give birth in the caravan they are living in while building their dream home.

Kelly Neville built most of this house literally by himself, coming day after day to a field with some oak beams and hand shaping them and fitting them together in order to make a home for his family. It was fascinating to watch, and the house came out gloriously. There are loads of photos on the estate agent’s website here, and some pics and a description of the build process here. £500,000 doesn’t seem too horribly expensive when you consider it comes with nearly 6 acres of land.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.


Letterpress forme with hand set Garamond TypeThe other day I fetched up in the lovely market town of Coggeshall in Essex to meet Justin Knopp of Typoretum about doing some bespoke letterpress work.

Justin Knopp Typoretum

Walking into the studio is like stepping back eighty years or so, and everywhere your eye settles in the cramped space there is something interesting to look at. Four presses are lined up down the centre of the space and the walls are lined with drawer upon drawer of metal and wood type, ready to be set into greetings cards, posters, stationary projects or anything else at all. Somehow it’s no surprise to learn that this is only a fraction of Justin’s collection, and there is plenty more a few miles away, both typefaces and presses, including a giant 1888 Wharfedale Cylinder Press he is painstakingly restoring – read about it on the Typoretum blog.

poster formeI came away with a strong sense of painstaking exactness and the quiet attention to detail that characterises Justin’s work, to the point of presenting hand printed stationary in handmade boxes he does himself because he can’t find ones which are nice enough on the open market.

Typoretum letterpress card

These pictures are all from the Typoretum Flickr stream which has lots more beautiful photos of the printing process, from drawing out designs in pencil on layout paper to the finished pieces. I look forward to the time when some of the sweetly funny neo-Victorian posters I saw in the workshop will be available online too.

For now there’s a stock range of greetings cards and some lovely bespoke stationary options, all printed on beautifully soft, tactile mould made papers which are a joy to pick up and hold. I’m so happy this immensely time consuming form of printing isn’t dying out completely.
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Old Town

If you stand and listen in the Old Town showroom in Holt, Norfolk, you hear the ticking of the clock and the sound of the sewing machine upstairs, making garments from traditional, hardwearing materials. There is no sleepy electronic beeping or the soft hum of computer fans that  we tend to take for granted.

The list of fabrics they use reads like a hymn to the forgotten glories of British mills – not just Harris Tweed but also corduroy, heavy tactile linens, cavalry drill, wool serge, moleskin and flannel. Shapes are simple, inspired by workwear from the last hundred or so years, and crucially don’t change seasonally. If you find something that suits you can continue having it made for you in summer and winter weight materials.

Old Town started 18 years ago in Norwich as a retro kitchenwear shop, but gradually the clothes started creeping in, and gained a fanatical following.

In their own words “Our single breasted rever collar jacket is an unfaithful copy of one found in a tool locker during the demolition of Stratford locomotive works; locker and contents seen on offer at Lea Bridge Road car boot sale.

Handed in as lost property in 1936, the originals for our style know as ‘High Rise’ were then mislaid behind a radiator in the London Transport Lost Property Office until redecoration in the early nineteen eighties.

Our popular ‘Overall Jacket’ is the mutant offspring of a pre-war lamplighter’s jacket glimpsed on the back of a chair in Coffee Republic at Canary Wharf.”

The Old Town look isn’t a painstaking reproduction of a particular period, but more an exuberant ramble through Britain’s idea of its heritage. Playful references to the Nanny state (the ties you can just see in the photo above), a range of Fair Isle tank tops straight out of an Enid Blyton book, and the dreaded Aertex which sadly reminds me of the smell of my old school changing rooms, all contribute to a jolly air of faded seaside holidays and 1950s milkmen.

Everything both downstairs and up contributes to this feeling – there is no jarring note of  the 21st century creeping in.

Upstairs is a low ceilinged work room reminiscent of those on Saville Row, where everything is cut out and much of it sewn, the rest being sent out to local seamstresses before coming back for finishing. It is the exact opposite of buying semi-disposable chainstore clothes made in the Far East.

So, if you prefer Gill Sans to Helvetica, and paper cones of winkles to plastic trays of sushi, do investigate further. Telephone former Woolworths saturday girl Miss Willey, visit the store in Holt or their fine website, where most of the male models sport estimable beards and the ladies sensible shoes suitable for bicycling through country lanes.

Old Town clothing

Also turn to The Evening Star, their cheerful publication which makes the final demise of pale blue Aertex headline news. Next edition coming soon.

Old Town, 49 Bull Street, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6HP. 01263 710001. (they do say it is advisable to telephone before travelling any great distance).

Opening times Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

A motherlode of beautiful furniture

This weekend is the monthly auction at Willingham, a small village northwest of Cambridge.

The auction house is a series of beautiful old brick barns, set around a gravelled courtyard, and to me it beats shopping on Ebay hands down, especially for furniture.

Auctions are held on Saturdays and the drill is that if you arrive at 9am, you have an hour to look round before the auction opens. Arrive early, register for your bidder numer, get a catalogue and a bacon sandwich from the fabulous cafe and have a look round the furniture and objects.

There is usually lots of victorian furniture, a smattering of georgian and some fabulous oddities. My husband raised one eyebrow when I brought home an old tin trunk fancifully painted with a fictional nautical scene but I’m happy with it.

There’s a certain amount of rushing between the two simultaneous auctioneers – one doing furniture in the main barn, one doing china and collectables in the other building. (Collectables – I’m discovering that covers a multitude of weirdness.)

Bidding is a huge adrenaline rush, everything telescopes into you, the auctioneer and the mysterious competition, on the phones, commission bids in the auctioneers book or other people on the floor. Those who attend are a mix of dealers and punters. There’s lots of married couples where the husband  does the serious business of talking to the auctioneer, but each new bid stands or falls on the wife’s nod. It’s a beautiful thing.

As the morning wears on the rooms start to look a bit thinner as people take their purchases away, but tea and home made cake keep the energy up and in summer there’s usually some garden furniture being sold that no one minds you borrowing for a quick tea break.

And then home in time for lunch in Antiques Roadshow stylee, with a giant grandfather clock sticking out of the sunroof.

Sign up for catalogue alerts at – they have an excellent website where you can see exactly what’s going to be in the sale with pictures and estimates, and all the usual information. See you saturday!

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Christmas shopping

If you are anything like me, you have sorted out all the easy christmas presents and are worrying about the last few people who are impossible to buy for or you don’t know well. After a panicked saturday afternoon wandering round Cambridge in the freezing rain looking for inspiration that never came, I decided that buying something local and handmade will never go amiss. I’ve had a look round local makers who are selling over the internet and rounded up some of the best pieces in a couple of sensible price brackets.

Credit crunch christmas, under £20

For the woman who has everything, including a tidy handbag:

Silver leaf keyring by Romilly Norman in Ipswich, £19



For the teenage girl you’ve never met who is coming for christmas day:

Peacock photogram by Heidi Burton

Peacock photogram by Heidi Burton  in Cambridge, £5


For people who like to age their bills on the fridge:

Hand screen printed magnets by Summersville in Suffolk, £5.95


For baby’s first christmas:

Hand knitted baby slippers by Willo in Cambridge £12


£20 – £50

You can’t go wrong with a beautiful bowl:

helen_brown_bowlBlackbird bowl by Helen Brown at the Suffolk Craft Society, £38


For modern mermaids:

mermaid_pendant_coryvreckanInspired by a piece of bladderwrack picked up on Southwold beach, seaweed pendant by Corryvreckan, £26


For the cosy and house proud, St Judes screen print artist-designed fabrics, and make up lovely cushion covers:

stjudes_cushion_coversSt Judes cushion covers, £32 each. Also check out their printed notebooks and cosy woolen throws.


For those who appreciate stark winter beauty, this tiny etching:chrissy_norman_winter_willowsWinter willows at Dedham, by Chrissy Norman, who is based in Trimley St Mary in Suffolk, £55


Disclaimer: the local and handmade thing doesn’t work on teenage boys at all. Except for local beers for the later teen years. Or after – what man (apart from my husband) would appreciate socks over hand brewed beer?

The Angels Sale

Edit: If you missed this or got there after all the good stuff had gone, try the calmer surroundings of  The London Vintage Fashion, Textiles and Accessories Fair in Hammersmith Town Hall on Sunday.

See all the details on their website.



This is where I’ll be this weekend. The Angels sale.


Boxes of vintage clothes and costumes

Boxes of vintage clothes and costumes

For those who don’t know, Angels and Bermans is the theatrical costumier’s theatrical costumier… Founded in Seven Dials in 1840, they started by selling second hand clothing and tailors samples from Saville Row, often to local actors looking for costumes. Morris Angel eventually diversified into renting for the duration of a play, and a successful business was born.

It’s still a family business, and they run the gamut from film and tv and theatre costumes, to fancy dress hire from their shop in Shaftesbury Avenue and their warehouse in North London. Their warehouse with 5 and a half miles of rails of beautifully made costumes of every era. 

Angels Warehouse

Angels Warehouse

They have remained at the top of their profession by doing what they do incredibly well – well researched, beautifully made historical costumes, creative costumes with flair, lots and lots of them. Think of a movie and they may well have dressed it – Star Wars, Marie Antoinette, The English Patient, Death on the Nile, Memoirs of a Geisha…

They are selling off old costumes and broken jewellery. There will be a whole room of 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s clothes, laid out in rows of cardboard boxes to rummage through. It’s going to be chaotic, frenetic madness. You pay not by the outfit but by the bag. There is a victorian section, a 1970’s and 80’s section. 

All this is just to try and explain why it’s important to get up up long before dawn tomorrow to drive there for an early spot. Given that in my mind’s eye at least, I look like the women below, this is my idea of perfect heaven and I’m already sharpening my elbows. I think I’ll need a big bag…

(Image from carbonated on Flickr)

If this doesn’t sound exciting enough, they have made some YouTube videos to whip up the frenzy levels. Just the sight of all those full cardboard boxes sends a little shiver down my spine. If it does yours too, do what you can to be there, as this kind if thing happens very rarely.

All the details on the Angels website. Open 9am to 5pm on Saturday 6th December only.

Eco sneak peeks

If you’ve ever considered building your own eco-friendly Grand Design you should be in Norfolk next weekend. The Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is holding four days of Open Houses in a great range of properties around the county.

They run the gamut from eco housing developments to a traditionally built cob house, via converted farm buildings, strawbale structures and an ordinary-looking suburban house with discreet eco add-ons. There is even a beautiful old watermill that has converted its wheel to a micro turbine to generate electricity. Architects, designers and householders will be on hand to talk through what they’ve learned, which could be a really useful resource if you’re contemplating going down this route.

See their flyer here for the range of possibilities and book tours by telephone ASAP as they apparently get booked out very quickly.


Thursday 11th – Sunday 14th September – not all properties open on all days  

Book via the Energy Saving Trust on 01733 566910

CPRE Norfolk

 NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.