Painting the Town Radicchio

Originally published in Arkadia magazine, July 2014.

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Farrow & Ball are very much part of Dorset’s heritage. They’ve been here since John Farrow and Richard Ball first founded the company and, although their products are available from showrooms around the world, Farrow & Ball are still keen to maintain their local links.

Arkadia joined Farrow & Ball recently, on a tour of Wimborne, for the culmination of a unique collaboration with local businesses. The craftsmen in paint and paper offered the town’s businesses free paint to re-paint their front doors, brightening up the streets of Wimborne and coinciding nicely with the re-branding of the town. More than 30 businesses took part, choosing colours from Arsenic to Pitch Black.

Wimborne doors in Pitch Black, Blazer and Mouse's Back.

Wimborne doors in Blazer, Pitch Black and Mouse’s Back.

Sarah Cole, Director at Farrow & Ball said, “This was a lovely project to be involved in. Being a Dorset

based company near Wimborne, it was great for us to be able to support so many local businesses close to our home. Not only has it helped with the re-branding of the town, it has helped us to build new relationships within our community. The doors look fabulous and it’s nice to see splashes of colour as you wander the streets of Wimborne!”

The tour of the town, which started at The Square, was led by Wimborne’s Mayor, Andy Hampton, who introduced each of the doors in turn. “I was really pleased to be able to be a part of this project as it’s something a little bit different,” Andy said. “It’s fantastic from a business point of view, who are already receiving comments about how nice their front doors look, and the whole town of Wimborne benefits from being a more colourful and appealing town. At the moment we are busy re-branding our website and have recently had a new logo for the town designed, so Farrow & Ball deciding to paint the front doors of our businesses couldn’t have come at a better time!”

Doors in Arsenic.

Doors in Arsenic.

Every door that has been painted, from East Street to West Street, the High Street to West Borough, has a plaque inside stating which colour has been used, so if you notice a newly painted front door on your travels, pop in and see if it’s part of the Wimborne Front Door venture.

 

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A Dome from Home

Originally published in Arkadia magazine, July 2014.

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In a recent covert operation, we crossed the border (with Wiltshire) in search of a man rumoured to be single-handedly revolutionising the way we think about providing people with shelter. It turns out the rumours are true.

Not so long ago, James Towner-Coston, a charismatic professional musician, was looking for a way to turn things around when the banks and corporations who had previously hired his services were forced to tighten their belts. James had always had an affinity with the traditional self-build culture of indigenous people such as Native Americans and set out to look for a 21st century take on what he likes to call ‘comfortable nomadity’.

This led to the re-kindling of an idea that had first taken shape in James’s mind some 20 years earlier. Inspired by nature, James developed a modular method of construction, using orange-like segments, to offer a funky, lightweight sectional building with infinite design possibilities and almost as many uses. The Unidome had arrived.

'Comfortable nomadity'

‘Comfortable nomadity’

As with all great inventions, the idea is a simple one. Ash-framed curved segments are hand laminated on purpose-built formers and fitted with a range of different in-fills, from state-of-the-art Rivertex textiles to plexiglass, before being linked together in-situ to form a dome. The result is not only a weather-proof structure like no other; it is also the coolest place on earth! The combination of materials can be specified to produce a custom built dome, just the way you want it. After an exciting time on the road, ex-festival domes can look forward to retirement when they are beautifully clad in oak before taking up permanent residence at some of the UKs coolest camp sites.

The Unidome is the perfect festival glamping solution but James has more serious applications in mind too. The portability and speed of build makes the Unidome ideal for refugee housing, where conflict or natural disaster necessitates rapid relocation. James also delivers a persuasive case for the use of Unidomes as affordable eco-housing – how cool would that be! Projects currently in the pipeline, including a 20-dome eco-hotel and a 10-dome village at Dartmoor Zoo, will become the first permanent sites demonstrating the possibilities for Unidome communities.

A pair of unidomes

The start of a Unidome village.

James worked menial jobs to raise the money needed to build the first batch of domes. He immediately landed a festival contract and just 12 hours later (yes, just 12 hours later) the demand for Unidomes was ringing the phone off the hook! In no time at all domes were popping up all over the place with backstage and VIP boutique camping areas at festivals soon becoming Unidome villages. At the Isle of Wight Festival, the village also became a media frenzy, Sky Arts choosing the domes as the venue for interviews with performing stars.

As we walked around ‘Domeland’ – essentially the Unidome workshops – there was an overwhelming feeling that we had somehow taken a wrong turn and stumbled upon a super-cool loft apartment. It soon became clear that this is what James does; he creates spaces that people want to explore – spaces that people want to live in. The large two-storey building is filled with domes in various stages of fabrication and, as we explore the ground floor, we weave our way through steel formers, used to build up the layers of laminate that ultimately become the dome segments. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot an electric guitar and a vintage amp, lined up with the other essential tools of James’s creative trade. The guitar is positioned where it is easily accessible, giving the impression that this is where James can be found when he’s working through an idea.

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Unidome HQ

Up on the mezzanine, there’s some serious product development going on, with prototype modular walls and more dome sections. There’s another guitar, amidst the ash segments, as well as some retro signage and a picture of Bob Marley. It’s a great place to be and what a cool place to work – creative heaven!

 

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A Drink For Old Times’ Sake

Originally written for Period Living, September 2014.

The vintage movement marches ever-onward, and whilst some devotees are keen to recreate a specific era in their homes, there are many that choose to combine choice pieces from across past decades, creating a gorgeous timeless look. But it’s not just about looking back – it is amazing just how great carefully chosen vintage finds can look when surrounded by modern furnishings. The clean and simple lines of the 21st century provide the perfect foil for vintage pieces, whether they are lovingly handcrafted one-offs or quirky examples of mid-century mass production.

I was recently offered the opportunity to step into a real-life version of this situation at Whittaker Wells, a fabulous interiors showroom and studio in Bristol, where Ryan Whittaker and Pete Eastwood offer a huge range of classic and up-to-the-minute fabrics, from designers such as Morris & Co, Osborne & Little and Ralph Lauren, as well as wallcoverings and paint.

Ryan Whittaker and Sarah-Jane Hosegood

Ryan Whittaker and Sarah-Jane Hosegood

The occasion was a drinks party, co-hosted by Ryan and Pete and Sarah-Jane Hosegood, well known in vintage circles as being the owner of The Vintage Home Shop and the name behind Twitter’s #vintagefindhour – a thriving community where like-minded lovers of all things vintage meet each week on Twitter. This is a great idea – a kind of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” for vintage lovers. Ryan and Pete are no strangers to social media either and if you discover the Twitter hashtag, #boyswhosew, you’ll know that Ryan and Pete aren’t far away.

With such a thriving vintage scene in the south west, Sarah-Jane is keen to make the move from tweet to meet and had invited an array of the region’s movers and shakers, up-cyclers and makers to the gathering at Whittaker Wells. The guests included: Jo Cassidy, a mural artist and furniture painter from Castle Cary; textile artist, Angela Knapp; furniture up-cycler, Jemma Ware; Clevedon’s No. 19, Tombola Vintage; Bristol’s The Scone; Retro Magpie; Helen’s Retro Home from Wiltshire and Rhubarb Jumble.

The huge island workstation at Whittaker Wells, played host to a suitcase sale with offerings, from some of the invited traders, ranging from china and glassware to kitchenalia and textiles, all against the backdrop of the showroom’s oh-so-stylish pitch black walls. Sarah-Jane’s attention to detail even extended to the buffet which had a decidedly retro feel, complete with a cheese and pineapple hedgehog and vol-au-vents – straight out of Abigail’s Party – fabulous!

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A selection of delights from the suitcase sale

The evening was a huge success and hopefully the first of many such occasions. It was great to finally meet up with so many people that I have been ‘talking to’ on Twitter for so long and to experience another great example of vintage and contemporary working so well together.

 

 

 

 

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A Few Words About My Dad

My lovely dad died earlier this year. At his funeral I shared a few of the many memories that wouldn’t have been possible without him.

It’s Father’s Day today, so I thought I’d post these words, in the hope that they will last longer here than they will on a crumpled piece of paper, in the inside pocket of my black suit jacket.

My Dad

My Dad

On the face of it, Dad was just an ordinary man. Bob the builder, husband, dad, granddad, great granddad, brother, uncle.

To us, he was a lovely man who made us feel safe. He was steady and reliable, and a dad to be proud of. And he was the kind of dad who would do anything for you – pick you up late at night, build you a pig sty – that kind of thing. But there was so much more to him than that. He wasn’t just an ordinary man. Far from it. He was an extraordinary man, capable of extraordinary things.

He could always make us laugh. When we were small, the bedtime routine became legendary and consisted of him giving us ‘the whiskers’ followed by a bear hug, which was always accompanied by the words, “you cannot escape earth man!” in his best alien voice. Maria had the additional pleasure of Dad’s signature kiss, when he would squeeze her cheeks until she looked like a cabbage patch kid. I can’t mention Dad’s sense of humour without mentioning the cheesecake joke. Now, I’m not sure if he invented the cheesecake joke but Dad will certainly go down in history as the man responsible for perpetuating it.

So, Dad would say “Could you eat half a cheesecake?” and when we replied “Yes,” he would say “I’ll have the other half!” Uncontrollable laughter always followed (mainly Dad’s).

It wasn’t always fun and games though; Dad always worked so hard. He did this to provide us with lovely homes and so that Mum and Dad could take us on the most fantastic holidays. And these holidays allowed Dad to enjoy his favourite pastime – looking for the short cut. These short-cuts have led to Lyon being known as the City of a Thousand Bridges, they are why we know every twist and turn of La Turbie and why, today, you are in the company of four of only a handful of people ever to have discovered what is simply known as ‘the church on the rock’.

One summer, on a flight bound for one of these exotic destinations, an announcement came through the speakers. Rather bizarrely, the announcement went something like this: “We have a spare seat in the cockpit this afternoon. If anyone would like to join the pilot and co-pilot for the remainder of the flight, please make yourself known to a member of the cabin crew.” There was no stopping him; before anybody could protest, Dad was bounding up the aisle, on his way to the cockpit, where he sat for the remainder of the flight.

He was always on the lookout for the next adventure. On holiday in Devon one year, he went for a walk along the beach in Appledore and was gone for ages. It transpires that he’d looked across to Instow, on the opposite side of the river, and thought to himself “I reckon I could swim that.” So he did. When he got to the other side, he waited until he’d got his breath back and then swam back again. That’s a mile and a half round trip!

Dad always loved music and when he wasn’t whistling (often through the gap in his teeth), he was singing. He had a great voice and I will always remember a day on a building site, probably somewhere near Brentwood, when Foreigner’s I Wanna Know What Love Is was playing on the cement splattered radio that seemed to last Dad’s entire career. He sang along faultlessly, at the top of his voice, hitting every single high note. Thirty years later, I still hear his voice every time that record starts.

As most of you know, Dad was a skilled gymnast when he was young, only giving up when he broke both arms in a vaulting accident. He always liked to remind himself of his younger days by doing an impromptu handstand here and there. Colin and I can remember how great it was to go to the swimming pool, following Dad up the endless steps to the top diving board, way up high above the pool. Not many people ventured that high so when someone did, it seemed like everyone used to stop and wait to see what would happen next. And what happened next was that Dad would walk casually to the edge of the board, do a handstand and then launch himself off the edge into a perfectly executed somersault. After we’d got changed, we used to sit at the side of the pool drinking scalding hot Bovril out of a plastic cup, whilst smugly thinking “yep, that’s my dad!”

I can’t talk about Dad without mentioning Mum. They have always been a fantastic double act. Their love for each other has always been obvious and their love for their children and grandchildren never in question. In a time when marriage is often viewed as a temporary, disposable arrangement, to us they will always be the couple that not only proved that marriage can work but the couple that became a shining example of why it should work.

I’d like you to remember Dad, Granddad, BobBob or Bob – whatever you called him – with a smile on your face. Remember those extraordinary things: the high-diving, the swimming across the river and the driving around Majorca for 2 weeks in a beaten up old Citroen Mahari and not finding first gear until the last day.

I’d like you to take the occasional short-cut, not because you think it might get you there quicker but because it might be the start of a great adventure. Never forget to take your trunks when you go to the beach, sing along the next time you hear Foreigner on the radio and do a handstand now and again, just because you can.

And don’t stop there – I’m sure you all have your own extraordinary memories.

When I asked Colin to let me know what he wanted me to say on his behalf, he said something that is very personal to him but, at the same time, goes for all of us.

He said: “All I can really think of is that Dad never stopped being my hero and that not a day passes when I don’t do something that he taught me to do.”

I think that is as much as any of us can hope for.

Thanks Dad.

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Eek! to Chic – The Bathroom

Like the kitchen, the bathroom just has to be right. It may not be the room in which we spend the most time but it should certainly be all about quality time. It needs to have sufficient storage, without feeling cluttered and it also needs to be easy to look after let’s face it, we look forward to relaxing in the tub, not spending hours cleaning it.

The printer's tray contains remnants of the old wallpaper.

Having said all that, it’s not all about practicality. As well as clean lines, we also wanted something classic a little bit of grandeur, but on a small scale.

Was that possible?

Click here for the full story.

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Minster Marvel

Originally published in Arkadia magazine, March 2014.

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The beautiful market town of Wimborne Minster is a patchwork of red brick, colour-washed render, slate roofs, sash windows, pediments and porticoes. Like many Dorset towns, it owes its appearance to many different eras, from the dominating contribution of the 12th century Minster, through the 16th century, with notable examples including the beautiful Priest’s House Museum, and a most conspicuous contribution from the Georgians. Their penchant for the revival of classical architecture is in evidence throughout the town. In fact, The Square is almost surrounded by buildings sporting features pulled kicking and screaming into the 19th century from their Greek and Roman origins.

1st Trio

Next to the Minster, the Tivoli Theatre must rank as one of the town’s most unique landmarks. The 500-seat Tivoli was built in 1936, in the heyday of Art Deco, as a theatre and cinema. Despite being threatened with demolition at the end of the 70s, the run-down Tivoli was faithfully restored and re-opened in 1993. Now, almost 80 years since ‘curtain up’, the Tivoli stays true to its original cause, bringing the latest films and the best in live entertainment to the town.

There is no doubt that Wimborne is a beautiful town; a town steeped in history, its heritage evident at every turn. The way it works, like the way it looks, has resulted from centuries of development, layer upon layer. However, since 1936, it has also become the result of a very special relationship between a town, its theatre and its eateries.

Fuelled by a constant stream of visitors, discerning in their quest for culture and cuisine, Wimborne has experienced a restaurant renaissance in recent years, with a culinary quarter developing along the route between the Tivoli and the centre of town.

2nd trio

Up on West Borough, as you head towards the Tivoli, you’ll come across some of the town’s newest food and drink establishments. Number 9 is a beautiful mid-Georgian building that would once have belonged to a wealthy merchant. These days it is home to Head Chef, Academie Culinaire de France graduate, Greg Etheridge who’s on a mission to create traditional food with a modern twist. Greg’s experience, including 3 years at Langan’s Brasserie has helped him secure 2 AA rosettes for the past 5 years.

Right next door is The Taphouse, a fabulous new bar that opened at the end of last year. As you enter, you soon discover that it is as well-stocked with character as it is with ale. The walls are crammed with an eclectic assembly of items, all vying for your attention, from blueprints to vintage radios; from vacuum flasks to carpet beaters! The Taphouse offers an unrivalled selection of ales from right across the south west and there’s a Sunday afternoon music slot that’s also been going down a treat.

3rd Trio

Just across the street you’ll find the Tickled Pig, a beautiful restaurant that opened in 2012. The Tickled Pig’s philosophy is that “Great food starts with great ingredients,” and they mean it! Their commitment to this cause means that ex-Masterchef, Jez Barfoot and Matt Davey, of The Museum and The Hungry Black Dog Supper Club fame, will go to almost any lengths in the name of quality. They grow fruit and veg on their own plot and raise their own Oxford Sandy and Black pigs for pork. When a restaurant cares this much about the quality of its ingredients you know the food will be exquisite – and it is.

It is not unusual for a town’s past to play an important role in its present. But, in Wimborne, the past also secures the future, as our need for food, for the body and the soul, are destined to remain intertwined throughout the evolution of this wonderful town.

If it’s been a while since you last explored, don’t you think it’s time you paid Wimborne a visit?

4th Trio

Arkadia magazine is available from selected outlets throughout Dorset or online here.

Images: Graham Rains/Martyn Gleaden.

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The Sherborne Identity

Originally published in Arkadia magazine, November 2013.

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As you wend your way through Sherborne you cannot ignore the architecture. Its beauty lies not only in individual buildings but in the combinations of periods and styles that line up like a living architectural sourcebook. Medieval and Georgian buildings sit shoulder to shoulder along Cheap Street, Sherborne’s retail backbone, and throughout the town the influence of the Victorians winds its way through this earlier architecture, embellishing it in spectacular style.

Let’s take it from the top, quite literally, and start at No. 1 Cheap Street. This prestigious address belongs to The Julian, a stunning example of an early 16th century stone town house and one of Sherborne’s oldest buildings. Now home to the Sherborne Tapestry Centre, The Julian has been an inn and a hospice. A few yards away is the Toy Box, a good old-fashioned independent toy shop with gorgeous Georgian shop windows and 8 rooms packed to the rafters with toys and games.

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Beautiful mellow stone in Cheap Street

Nearby, Winstone’s, a beautifully arranged bookshop, allows you the chance to relax with a book and a coffee. Sherborne boasts several beautiful threshold mosaics and here you’ll find the name ‘Curtis’, providing a tantalising clue to one of the shop’s former identities.

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Deco espresso – Oliver’s Coffee House

Oliver’s Coffee House greets you with a stunning art deco shop front of curved teak and coloured glass, dating back to 1927 when the shop was home to Mould & Edwards. What originally opened as a butchers shop in 1884 later became a ‘general provisions merchants’. Oliver’s now specialises in light lunches, classic cakes and other wonderful things made from locally sourced ingredients.

Three doors down you’ll find Maddie Brown. This beautiful 17th century shop was once occupied by ‘noted Sherborne tailors and outfitters’, Lowman & Sons, established in 1876. These days the suits have been replaced by beautiful objects for the home, including furniture and lots of gorgeous gift ideas.

In the time it takes to cross the street, we have gone back another 200 years, to the 15th century and the fascinating medieval timber framed buildings that dominate this part of Cheap Street. Now occupied by Henry Willis, antique silver specialist, and Four Seasons boutique, Shoemaker’s House is a stunning 15th century jettied building that was also once a candle maker’s shop.

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Henry Willis at Shoemaker’s House

Nearby, the building occupied by Almondburys and White Feather dates back to a similar period but hides behind a later façade.

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Behind a later façade

Other examples of timbered buildings include Abbeylands, on the corner of Abbey Road, which still bears the Roman numerals carved into the beams to aid its 17th century construction.

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Abbeylands

As we approach The Parade at the bottom of Cheap Street we are met by an array of fascinating buildings, including the bow-fronted former Sherborne Bank of Saving, built in 1818 and now occupied by Orvis. Originally the People’s Supply Stores, dating back to the 17th century, 78 Cheap Street later became Rodman’s Stores and finally, in the 1930s, The Three Wishes Restaurant.

Now occupied by Tenovus, No. 84 became home to Dyer’s Cycle Works in 1895. The beautiful art nouveau shop front dates back to around this time, as does the ‘Dyer’s Cycle Works’ mosaic threshold.

Across the road, a few steps into Long Street, there’s a striking memorial to Sherborne’s heritage in the form of a preserved fragment of an anonymous building, bearing the following inscription: “This oakwork is part of the front of the ground floor of a sixteenth century house which stood on this site. It had been much mutilated and overlaid with plaster, but was laid bare when the house was demolished in 1926.”

A Fragment of a anonymous building in Long Street

A Fragment of an anonymous building in Long Street

Walking along Half Moon Street, we can’t ignore Sherborne Abbey. As much a feat of engineering as it is a work of art, this magnificent building, with its origins dating back to 705AD, has been reinvented time and again, each alteration working with, not against, what has gone before. In this sense the Abbey is the very essence of Sherborne wrapped up in one building. Ageing Victorian stained glass by Pugin complemented by John Hayward’s breath-taking Great West Window, installed in 1997, shows that time can pass gracefully in the right hands.

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The Great West Window

St Johns’ Almshouse, nearby illustrates this too. Founded in 1437 to care for ‘twelve pore feeble and ympotent old men and four old women’, it was extended almost seamlessly in 1864.

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St Johns’ Almshouse

It seems only right to finish our tour at this point, standing by two of Sherborne’s most iconic buildings. Remember though that this is just one of countless possible routes and that I have only mentioned a small selection of the wonderful shops that help to make this town so special.

If you find yourself in Sherborne on the hunt for Christmas presents, I hope you will also take the time to appreciate the gifts that the past has left behind for us all to enjoy.

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Arkadia magazine is available from selected outlets throughout Dorset or online here.

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