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January 19th  

A cosy home guide to looking after wood furniture

Here at Cosy Home, we love wooden furniture – there’s something so, well, cosy about it. From fine antique shop finds to comfortable, shabby, painted kitchen chairs, wood complements every type of decor and belongs in every room. Here’s how to look after your favourite pieces.

1. Painted wood

Painted chairs are easy to care for.

Painted furniture should need very little maintenance, making it an ideal choice for kitchens and bathrooms. Every so often, put a drop of washing up liquid into a bucket of warm water, wet a cloth then squeeze it out as much as possible and wipe all the surfaces of the furniture down.

Painted furniture takes on more character over the years, with knocks, chips and scuffs all contributing to that shabby chic look. If your chair or table is looking more shabby than chic, though, it could be time to repaint.

Lightly sand the surface of the furniture to ‘key’ it, and provide a roughened grip for the new coat of paint, working with the grain of the wood.

Wipe with a damp cloth to remove any sawdust. Apply a coat of undercoat and allow to dry, then apply the top coat. If you want to create a shabby chic look, once the top coat is dry you can use a fine grade sandpaper to remove the paint from high wear areas like edges and chair arms.

For a vintage look, you can also apply a layer of wax over the top of the paint so that it looks aged. This doesn’t work with all types of paint, though, so read labels carefully first.

2. Waxed wood

Waxed wood needs regular maintenance to look its best.

Waxed wood has a lovely, soft shine and is fairly easy to care for, but it is vulnerable to damage such as ring marks caused by hot cups. Depending on the wear and tear it receives, waxed furniture should be periodically re-waxed with clear wax.

A kitchen table, for example, which gets a high volume of traffic, may need to be re-waxed a couple of times a month, whereas for a chest of drawers it may only be required every six of twelve months.

Use a good quality solid wax, which will nourish and protect the wood. Avoid spray polishs which normally contain silicone and give a bright, artificial-looking shine. It’s best to use a clear wax for maintaining waxed tables as in time, a coloured wax will make the table top darker than the legs.

Every so often, you may need to sand down the piece of furniture, working with the grain, and re-wax it from scratch by applying several layers of wax. Allow each one to dry before applying the next, but don’t leave it too long as it may set too hard to polish off. This is also a good opportunity to change the colour of the furniture with coloured wax, if you like.

3. Lacquered and French polished wood

Antique furniture that’s been lacquered or French polished should only be cleaned with a soft, dry cloth, and any damage should be restored by an expert.

Modern pieces that have been ‘lacquered’ with a polyurethane varnish can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. This type of finish is generally very hard wearing, but can be damaged by hot cups and plates or if water is allowed to sit on the surface.

This type of damage can only be invisibly repaired by sanding down and re-sealing the whole surface, which is best tackled by an expert. Chips and cracks can sometimes be repaired by rubbing a special wax stick (available online and from hardware shops) over the damage, then polishing with a soft cloth.

4. Outdoor wooden furniture

Teak furniture that’s oiled will retain its rich colour.

If your outdoor chairs and tables are made from teak, you have two choices. Regularly wiping the furniture with a damp cloth and them applying teak oil will keep it protected and maintain the rich, dark colour. Alternatively, you can let the furniture fade to a pretty silvery-grey but it will be more prone to splits and damage than treated wood.

A regular clean with specialist mould and mildew protector will help keep the wood in good condition, and always try to store furniture under cover in poor weather.

Oak furniture takes a long time to season so during the first year of usage will need regular oiling with linseed or teak oil, paying particular attention to joints and ends. Afterwards, maintenance can be reduced to once a year.

(Top photo credit: Shutterstock)

January 13th  

Top 10 bedding buys for a cosy bedroom

You may not be able to give your bedroom a full revamp, but a new bedding set is a great way to give the room a different feel. Have a couple of sets in different colours for different moods, and accessorise with a couple of neutral cushions.

Here’s our top ten pick of bedding sets to give your bedroom a fresh new feel for 2015.

1. Natural owl’s bedding, The Fine Cotton Company

Owl bedding from The Fine Cotton Company

How cute is this children’s 100% organic cotton bedding, with little owls embroidered in a neutral colour? The range includes Oxford pillowcases, and duvet covers in cot, cot bed, single and double sizes. Perfect for giving your child’s room a clean, crisp makeover – we also quite fancy a set of this ourselves! Prices start at £15, available from The Fine Cotton Company.

2. Sous les etoiles bed linen, Ville & Campagne

Sous les etoiles bed linen

Perfect for adding a little French chic to your cottage or chateau, this ‘sous les etoiles (under the stars) handmade, pure cotton bed linen is a touch of everyday luxury. Available in a choice of four colours, each item is reversible for a different look. Prices start at £65 for a single duvet set, available from Ville & Campagne.

3. Bloomsbury bedding set, Alison at Home

Bloomsbury bedding set

This clean, crisp Bloomsbury bedding set just makes us want to lounge in bed all day. A wide contrast border in mushroom adds a subtle touch of colour, and the luxurious 200 thread count cotton percale is smooth and comfortable against your skin. Prices start at £69.50 for a single duvet set, which includes a pillowcase and duvet cover. Available from Alison at Home.

4. Kizzy quilt, Aspace

Kizzy quilt from Aspace

This busy Kizzy patterned quilt will cheer up any grey wintery day, with its bright colours and cheerful pattern. A matching pillow sham is also available. 100% cotton. Was £95, now £76, available from Aspace.

5. Arrow bedcover, Ferm Living

Arrow bedspread from Ferm Living

A new take on a traditional patchwork quilt, this geometric cotton bedcover by Ferm Living gives a modern twist to any bedroom. In shades of  rose, aubergine, grey and black, it can be mixed with plain cushions or other geometric patterns to create the look you want. It would also work well as a sofa throw. £199, available from Cloudberry Living.

6. Bella pink floral hearts patchwork quilt, Marquis & Dawe

Pink floral heart bedspread

This pretty, traditional patchwork quilt is the perfect finishing touch for any little girl’s room. It features an appliquéd hearts design with a square patchwork floral border and a pink ditsy floral design on the reverse. In 100% cotton, it’s available in single or double sizes. Matching cushion covers and pillowshams are available separately. Prices start at £12 for a cushion cover. Available from Marquis & Dawe.

7. Children’s racing car duvet set, Becky and Lolo

Children’s racing car duvet set

This children’s racing car duvet cover set includes plenty of bold graphics to stimulate any child’s imagination. Made from 100% luxury cotton percale, this set is natural, hypo-allergenic, breathable and soft to the touch. The design is fade resistant and the set is long lasting and durable. Set includes one single duvet cover and one pillowcase. £32.99, available from Becky and Lolo.

8. Tumble bedlinen, LOAF

Tumble bedding from LOAF

This understated, casually chic bedding looks like linen but is actually a cotton linen mix, meaning it’s easier to look after and comes without the hefty price tag. Available in double, king and superking sizes, the range includes pillowcases, fitted sheets and duvet covers. Prices start from £15, available from LOAF.

9. Annabel bed linen, The French Bedroom Company

Annabel bedding from LOAF

Crisp classic white is always a good choice for sheets, and they’ll never go out of style. This luxury set includes a duvet cover, two pillowcases and a fitted sheet in a silky soft 300 thread count 100% cotton sateen. Available in double or king sizes, prices start from £110 for the set. Available from The French Bedroom Company.

10. Star and stripe reversible duvet set, Aspace

Stars and stripes bedding set from Aspace

A bold, colourful choice for a child’s room, this duvet set is reversible giving you a choice of two different looks. One side is blue with white stars while the other has a design of blue stripes. The set includes a duvet cover and pillowcase, both made from 100% combed cotton. Was £35, now £24.50, available from Aspace.

(Top image credit: Shutterstock)

 

January 4th  

Cosy Home guide to using up Christmas food leftovers

We’ve all done it – opened the kitchen cupboards in February to find a last, leftover Christmas pudding that we’d forgotten about at the time, or thrown away the last of the turkey rather than eat it any more.

New research carried out in 2014 by Unilever suggests that as a nation at Christmas we waste:

* 17.2m Brussels sprouts

* 11.9m carrots

* 11.3m roast potatoes

* 10.9m parsnips

* 9.8m cups of gravy

* 7.9m slices of turkeu

* 7.9m cups of stuffing

* 7.5m mince pies

* 7.4m slices of Christmas pudding

* 7.1m pigs in blankets

Phew! While some of that waste is unavoidable, much of it could be saved.

Here are our top tips for imaginative ways of using up the last of your Christmas food!

1. Make turkey and vegetables into soup or pies

Cooked, uneaten vegetables can be frozen then used to make soup, added to pies or pureed together to make vegetable cakes for frying. If you have cooked turkey left in the freezer, this plate pie is ideal for using it up – you can also make use of any uncooked bacon that didn’t get eaten over the break.

Turkey plate pie

Turkey plate pie is a great way of using up leftovers

Start by lining an enamel pie plate with bought shortcrust pastry. (If you don’t have a pie plate, you can make individual pies in Yorkshire pudding tins – just adjust the cooking time accordingly.) Then, cut six rashers of smoked streaky bacon into strips, and fry them until cooked. Meanwhile, finely chop one onion and 10 to 12 mushrooms.

Once the bacon’s cooked, take it out of the pan and put it to drain on some kitchen paper, and add the onion and mushrooms to the pan. Gently fry until cooked, then add 30g of butter and 30g flour to the pan.

Stir everything round until the butter’s melted, and add 75ml milk and 75ml chicken stock. Once the sauce has thickened, add the bacon back in and take the pan off the heat.

Stir in some chopped, cooked turkey meat and tip the whole mixture into the prepared dish.

Top with a pastry lid, pinch the sides of the pastry together to seal it and prick some holes in the top with a fork. Bake at 220 degrees Celsius for around 30 – 40 minutes, until the pie is golden and crisp. Serve with green vegetables.

2. Transform Christmas pudding into ice cream

Christmas pudding ice cream makes an unusual dessert

There’s only one way to use up Christmas pudding once the moment has passed, and that’s with Christmas pudding ice cream! Here’s how:

For the ice cream, put 600ml double cream in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Meanwhile, beat 3 large freerange egg yolks together with 100g caster sugar.

Let the cream cool slightly, then tip the egg mixture in with the cream and heat everything gently together for five minutes until it starts to thicken. Pour everything through a sieve into a large freezerproof container,and freeze for five hours, occasionally taking the bowl out and stirring in the frozen edges.

Meanwhile, unwrap the Christmas pudding, and turn it out into a bowl. Break it up as much as you can with a fork, so you have a bowl full of crumbs.

Line a large freezerproof plastic or Pyrex bowl with clingfilm. Stir the Christmas pudding crumbs into the ice cream mix, and tip it all into the pudding bowl. Freeze for at least 6 hours, and remove from the freezer 20 minutes before required. Serve with fresh raspberries.

3. Turn mincemeat into tart or cake

Mincemeat cake

When you really can’t face making any more mince pies but there’s still a jar of mincemeat left in the cupboard, how about one of these alternative ideas?

For a teatime treat, try making a giant mincemeat tart for cutting into slices and serving with custard. Mix the mincemeat with an equal quantity of fresh white breadcrumbs, and line a flan dish with sweet shortcrust party. Pour in the mixture, and spread it out evenly. Cover with a lattice top made of interwoven strips of pastry, and bake at 220 degrees Celsius for 20 to 25 minutes.

Alternatively, try this easy mincemeat cake. Put 100g butter or margarine, 130g self raising flour, 200g mincemeat, 120g sugar and 4 freerange eggs into a large bowl.

Mix everything together until fully combined. If you’ve got any other dried to fruit to use up such as glace or sour cherries or dried cranberries, they can go in too. Grease a deep 20cm square tin, and line it with greaseproof paper.

Pour the batter in, and level it out with the back of a spoon. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for around 30 to 35 minutes until well risen and golden.

Tip: If you don’t have a cake tin of the right size, you can make the mixture into fairy cakes – just divide the batter between 12 to 14 paper cases, and cut down the cooking time to around 15 minutes.

(Top image credit: Shutterstock)
December 30th  

Tips and tricks for home stain removal from Cosy Home

We all love Christmas and New Year parties – but we’re not so keen on the aftermath!

With lots of people crammed into limited spaces and lots of food and drink circulating, accidents are bound to happen – and we all know that the darkest, stickiest liquids will end up getting split on the palest surfaces. Here’s our handy guide to cleaning up after the party.

Stain removal essentials

Be prepared for all eventualities by stocking up on these stain removal essentials:

  • Vanish carpet and upholstery spray
  • Vanish Oxi Action wash-in powder
  • Table salt
  • White vinegar
  • Corn flour
  • Washing up liquid
  • A pack of soft cloths

1. Red wine stains

To remove red wine stains, act as quickly as possible.

Red wine is one of the most persistent stains, and if possible it’s best tackled while still fresh.

 

On a non-wool, pale-coloured  carpet, start by throwing handfuls of salt over the area. This will soak up any excess liquid. Once the salt’s turned pale pink, vacuum it up or blot it with a dry cloth, taking care to work from the outside of the stain inwards so you don’t spread it.

Then, spray the area with Vanish cleaner, leave it for five minutes and carefully blot with a clean cloth. If you only discover the stain the next morning, skip the salt stage and go straight to trying the Vanish.

If your carpet is wool, then Vanish cleaners aren’t advised. Instead, cover the stain with salt then carefully pour white wine vinegar over the salt until the mixture turns sludgy. Leave for around 20 minutes, then blot the mixture up with a clean cloth, taking care not to rub. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to consult a specialist cleaning company.

If your casualty is a tablecloth rather than a carpet, use the salt immediately if possible. Then, wash the cloth on the usual setting with a measure of Vanish Oxi Action wash in powder. If the stain is an old, dried in one, you can soak it in the powder first before washing it.

2. Grease stains

Butter, cooking oil and cream can all leave grease marks on fabrics.

If someone’s been a bit over-enthusiastic with the brandy butter or cream, your nice shirt or tablecloth may end up splattered. Start by sprinkling the stain with cornflour, which will soak up excess grease. Leave for five minutes, then carefully shake off the excess flour into the bin. Next, put a few drops of washing up liquid onto the stain (if you’re using dark-coloured detergent, dilute it first with some warm water) and rub it well into the stain.

Finally, run it through the wash cycle with a measure of Vanish Oxi Action. This method should work on cotton and synthetics, but for silk and delicate fabrics the best bet is to have the item dry cleaned.

3. Candle wax marks

Put candles on plates or holders to minimise the chances of dripping wax staining.

We all love a meal eaten by candlelight – but if you’re having a good time and some absorbing conversation, you may not notice candles overflowing onto the white tablecloth. The good news is that that candle wax stains are relatively easy to remove unless you’re using very dark coloured candles.

Start by carefully scraping off any excess wax with the back of a knife. The wax needs to be set before you do this, or you’ll end up spreading the mark – putting the cloth in the freezer for 10 minutes is the best way to be sure. Then, spread your ironing board liberally with kitchen roll, and lay the stained area of the cloth on top. Cover the stain with more kitchen roll, and iron over it using your iron on a warm setting. Change the kitchen roll frequently as it absorbs the wax.

When no more wax comes out, rub a few drops of washing up liquid into the remaining stain, and wash the tablecloth with a measure of Vanish Oxi Action, on as high a setting as you can for the fabric.

(Top image credit: Shutterstock)

(Disclosure: This post is not in association with Vanish, we just like their stain removal products!!)

December 21st  

Find the perfect gift for a green-fingered friend this Christmas with our pick of the top ten gifts for gardeners.

1. Camellia Japonica, Trees Direct

Camellia Japonica from Trees Direct

This beautiful spring flowering camellia has dark glossy evergreen leaves and looks good all year round. Camellias are ideal for experienced and novice gardeners alike, as they’re fully hardy and can be grown almost anywhere, and these come in a choice of double red, pink or pure white. Prices range from £35 to 42.40 from Trees Direct.

2. Gardeners’gift crate, iHampers

Gardeners’ gift box from iHampers

Hedge your bets, and treat your favourite gardener to this lovely gift box containing speciality tea and biscuits to round off a hard day in the open air. There’s also a high quality gardening fork and trowel set, scented soap and exfoliating hand wash. Was £53.90 now £43.90, available from iHampers.

3. Gardeners’ tool box, Orla Kiely

Orla Kiely tool box

Designer Orla Kiely has introduced a range of garden accessories featuring her love of pattern and colour, and we like this sturdy tool box. Perfect for storing hand tools, plant labels, seed packets and even for keeping that cheeky packet of biscuits safe from the mice, it’s made from galvanised steel and printed with the classic Linear Stem print. £39, available from Quince Living.

4. Chrysanthemum secateurs, Burgon & Ball

Burgon & Ball secateurs

This pair of secateurs has comfort grip turquoise blue handles, and is presented in a gorgeous gift box featuring pretty chrysanthemum artwork from the RHS Lindley Library. The blades are made from heat treated high-carbon steel, and other features include an easy release blade lock and a notch for wire cutting. Made by Burgon & Ball, the secateurs are endorsed by The Royal Horticultural Society and cost £17.95 from Annabel James.

5. Set of three garden prints, Moore Designs

Set of three garden prints from Moore Designs

This set of three mounted garden prints feature vintage tools that evoke a bygone era. The original tools belonged to the grandfather of metalsmith Alex Moore, and Alex still uses them in his garden today. The rustic photographic prints have a white background and are simply mounted onto 19mm birch plywood. £60 for the set, available from Moore Designs.

6. Gardeners’ gift set, The Oak Room

Gardeners’ gift set from The Oak Room

An unusual gift for green-fingered friends, this set, £14.99, includes a 120m spool of Nutscene garden twine, a set of 10 packets for storing seeds, a Woodland Trust notebook to keep track of what you have planted in your garden, a British Birds pencil and a British Birds storage case with metal clasp. Available from The Oak Room.

7. Green fingers mug, Sophie Allport

‘Green Fingers’ mug from Sophie Allport

A pretty ‘Green Fingers’ fine bone china mug, which will appeal to any gardening enthusiast. It features illustrations of wellington boots, trowels, vegetables, watering cans and herbs and is available in two sizes - standard, with a capacity of 275ml, and large with a capacity of 425ml. Prices start at £9.50, available from Sophie Allport.

8. Typography enamel bird mug, Berry Red

Enamel birds mug from Berry Red

This enamel mug is virtually unbreakable, so ideal for brewing up outside. It features an illustrated bird design and background type taken from a bird watchers’ manual,a dn has a capacity of 400ml.  £8.50, available from Berry Red.

9. Silver plated herb markets, The Cutlery Commission

Silver plated herb markers, The Cutlery Commission

Here’s a quirky gift for the gardener who has everything – a set of four silver plated sawn-off’ forks made into herb markers, with the words ‘Parsley’, ‘Sage’, ‘Rosemary’ and ‘Thyme’ hand-stamped above the fork prongs. Hand-customised in the Cotswolds, the set costs £26 from The Cutlery Commission.

10. Lawn ranger watering can, The Contemporary Home

‘Lawn ranger’ watering can, The Contemporary Home

The slogan on this watering can will either make you laugh or groan, but it’ll certainly make an unforgettable gift! The khaki coloured metallic watering can emblazoned with a lawn ranger logo costs £18 and is available from The Contemporary Home.

 

December 16th  

Create a cosy home with tartan Christmas decorations

With its festive patterns and strong, bright colours, tartan’s a popular choice for traditional Christmas decorations.

Whether you’re going all out tartan-tastic, or just adding a hint, check out these decoration ideas!

1. 3D tartan Christmas tree decoration, Gisela Graham

3D tartan trees

A tartan tree decoration in traditional red and green. This would look great on a traditional tree themed with red velvet ribbon bows and gold bells. £3.50 for one, available from The Contemporary Home.

2. Tartan crackers, Tesco

Tesco tartan crackers

Family crackers from Tesco, in shiny tartan and gold foil with gold ribbon decorations. £4 for 12, available from selected stores. For more information, visit www.tesco.com.

3. Tartan bauble, Heatons

Heatons tartan bauble

This simple cloth bauble would make an impact used as part of a wreath, as a mantelpiece display or, of course, just hanging for the Christmas tree. Accessorise with plain red and green accessories to stop your display looking too fussy. £1.50/2 euros, available from Heatons.

4. Tartan stars, Poundland

Tartan stars from Poundland

This great value set of decorations includes three hanging tartan stars, made from wood, felt and cloth and topped with a button. £1 for the set, available from selected Poundland stores. For stockist information, visit the Poundland website.

5. Tartan Christmas bells, Gisela Graham

Tartan bells in round or traditional shapes

Available in round or traditional shapes, these Christmas bells would be ideal tied to the front door knocker to herald the arrival of seasonal guests. Alternatively, use as tree decorations. £4.50 each, available from The Contemporary Home.

Tartan facts

Finally, here are a few things you may not have known about Scotland’s favourite symbol, to wow your Christmas guests with!

  • 1. A true tartan is a woven material, usually woollen, which has stripes of different colours in different widths. The checked appearance is made by the ‘weft’ (widthways) thread when the cloth is woven.
  • 2. A form of tartan dates back to the Irish Celts who immigrated to Scotland in the fifth century BC. One of the earliest examples ever found dates back to the third century AD, when a small sample of checked cloth was found used as a stopper in a jar.
  • 3. The origin of the name ‘tartan’ isn’t clear, but it may derive from the Irish ‘tarsna’ meaning ‘crosswise’, the Scottish Gaelic ‘tarsuinn’ meaning ‘across’ or the French ‘tiretaine’ which was a type of wool/linen cloth.
  • 4. The first recorded mention of tartan as a kind of clan uniform was in the 1745 rebellion. Local communities would normally wear similar tartans, as this would be governed by the plants and dyes the local weaver had access to.
  • 5. After the rebellion, the government of the time made it a penal offence to wear tartan, although this didn’t apply to aristocrats, women or government soldiers. The Tartan Act had the opposite effect to that intended, though, and Highlanders began to go to great lengths to wear tartan in secret. The act was repealed in 1782.
  • 6. In 1842, Queen Victoria visited Scotland and heralded the start of the Victoria love affair with the country. Her interest sparked the popularity of tartan, and she had two patterns designed especially for her – the Balmoral tartan, and the Victoria tartan. Other famous people and organisations with their own tartan include Scrooge MacDuck, Donald Duck’s Scottish uncle, the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have one and the Royal Air Force. Dozens of regions have their own tartan, including numerous American states and Canadian provinces, as well as Brittany in France. Tartan is popular across the globe, and popular in any country that has a population with Scottish roots.
  • 7. Tartan has now become a multi-million pound industry, and is inextricably bound up with Scottish cultural identity.

(Top image credit: Shutterstock)

December 9th  

Christmas present gift ideas for cooks from Cosy Home blog

If someone you know loves nothing more than pottering around in the kitchen, they’ll love our pick of the top ten Christmas presents for the keen cook.

1. Regent retro toaster, Rowlett

 British made to industrial standards, and in continuous production since the 1960s, the Regent toaster has been given a modern facelift with new contemporary colours. This heavy duty retro style toaster, £190, has four wide slots, and dials for the required number of slices and the degree of toasting. A fun and practical present to strike a cheerful note in any kitchen. Available from Anahi.

2. Enamel prep set, Falcon

This six-piece classic enamel prep set contains one colander and five mixing bowls. The separate items are made to be stored together, freeing up your cupboard space. Enamelware is porcelain fused onto heavy-gauge steel, making it smooth, durable, dishwasher safe and rust-proof – a must for any busy cook. £55, available from Bear and Bear.

3. Egg collecting tin, Annabel James

Egg collecting tin

Egg collecting tinThis cheerful, sunshine yellow egg collecting tin would make an ideal gift for someone who keeps their own hens, but would also look great as a kitchen storage egg rack. With carry handle, holds 6 eggs. £8.95 from Annabel James.

4. Starter set, SteakStones

SteakStones starter set

SteakStones starter setSteakStones are a new idea, where food is cooked on hot stones. The dry heat of the stone sears in the natural moisture and flavours of your chosen meat or fish and with no oils or fats required it’s a fresh and healthy way to cook. This starter set makes a good introduction to hot stone cooking, ideal for serving a selection of scallops and king prawns with some chilli sauce and lemon mayonnaise. £50, available from SteakStones.

5. Beekeeper’s custard jug, Laura Lee Designs

Beekeepers' custard jug

The design of this pretty hand painted jug features colourful flowers swaying in the breeze with busy honey bees hard at work. On the back is a little tin bee smoker in the grass softly puffing into the summer sky. Made in a limited edition of 250, this jug would also make a pretty vase for wildflowers. £35 from Laura Lee Designs.

6. Cream Coco stove top chocolate pot, La Cafetiere

Coco stove top chocolate pot

Every hard working cook needs the chance to put their feet up, and this aluminium stove top pot is just the thing to help you get your strength back with some fresh hot chocolate. Add chocolate and milk to the pot and place it on the stove, then use the frother to create a rich and creamy treat. The pot features a non-stick inner coating and soft touch handle and comes with a protective silicon mat.£45, available from La Cafetiere.

7. Set of two storage tins, National Trust

National Trust Country Kitchen storage tins

Keep your cakes and biscuits lovely and fresh in this set of two nested cake tins, featuring the blue floral design from The National Trust Country Kitchen collection. Inspiration for the Country Kitchen range came from a beautiful wallpaper in the collection at Oxburgh Hall, a National Trust property in Norfolk. £16.99 for the set, available from Creative Tops.

8. Wicker storage unit, Melody Maison

Melody Maison wicker storage unit

Perfect for storing anything from vegetables to table linen, this drawer and wicker basket storage unit is made from wood with a grey washed painted finish and will create some useful extra space in the kitchen. The drawers are half width with an antique brass cupped handle on each. £99.95, available from Melody Maison.

9. Her Ladyship tankard mug, The Great Gift Company

Her Ladyship tankard mug

We all know someone who’d appreciate this fine china tankard mug with the words “Her Ladyship” on both sides of the mug in royal and striking cobalt blue – shades of Downton Abbey. The mug is dishwasher safe and holds 420ml. £15, available from The Great Gift Company.

10. Chilean laurel bowl, Richard Shock

Chilean laurel bowl by Richard Shock

This beautifully smooth handmade wooden bowl would be ideal for holding fruit, or as a serving bowl for snacks. Made from Chilean Laurel with beautiful burr patterns and simple, elegant curves to show off  the wood, it’s handmade by Richard Shock. Different sizes available; prices start at £35. Available from Made by Hand Online.

By Sara Walker

December 4th  

Finished festive door hanger decoration

Fancy getting a bit creative? Why not try your hand at making this festive Christmas decoration to hang on your door.

The decoration has been created by Tracy Rowbottom, a designer at Country Baskets, and is simple and easy to make.

Ingredients

You will need the following items, all of which can be purchased from Country Baskets:

* Two small candle rings

* Two large candle rings

* Rope

* Wire

* Ribbon

How to make your door hanger

Step 1. Take two small floral candle rings and wire them together, back to back:

How to make a festive Christmas door decoration

How to make a festive Christmas door decoration

Step 2. Tie a long piece of rope or cord to the top, to create a handle. Make a ribbon band around the centre and tie into a bow on the top to hide your mechanics:

How to make a festive Christmas door decoration

How to make a festive Christmas door decoration

Step 3.

Repeat the process using two large decorative candle rings. Next take one small floral candle ring and tie a rope hanger and bow on top:

Make your own Christmas decorations

Step 4.

Cut three pieces of ribbon, approximately 10cms, and secure one to the top of each Christmas decoration with the rope hanger:

Make your own Christmas door decorations

Step 5.

Lay all your components out on the table, starting with the smallest on the bottom and finishing with the largest on top. When you are happy with your placements, tie a knot firmly on the top:

Make your own festive decorations

Step 6.

Tie a rope loop and make a bow to secure on the loop. To finish, tie the bow and rope loop to the top of the hanger and cut off any loose ends:

Christmas decoration diy guide

Step 7.

Vila, you should end up with a finished door hanging decoration that looks something like this:

Finished festive door hanger decoration

With thanks to Country Baskets for the step-by-step guide and images.

 

 

 

 

December 2nd  

The Nineties was the time for futons. They were cheap, they were good quality and they could be found in starter homes across the country.

A couple of decades on and they largely seem to have been forgotten, and their reputation has suffered, which is a terrible shame, as they were great in so many ways. If you want a bed that will last for years and which is comfortable, with proven health benefits, then you really should consider a Japanese bed. Fashions change and sometimes, in order to stay ahead of the game, it is good to make a choice that it is neither in or out of fashion. The Japanese bed is that choice.

Health Benefits

We mentioned health benefits. The Japanese are known for being a healthy nation so the fact that they have put a lot of thought into designing their beds will come as no surprise. Sleeping on a Japanese bed is known to improve blood circulation, prevent back and neck pain, reduces risk of scolosis and corrects posture. One study found that the traditional Japanese bed prevents hip fractures in the elderly.

What is a Japanese bed?

A Japanese bed is traditionally known as a shikibuton or shikifuton, and is made up of a:

-  Shiki futon – the mattres

- Kakebuton comforter – the bedding

- Soba gara makura buckwheat hull pillows – pillows

- Tri-fold mattress pad

- Tatami mat – for the floor

- Platform bed – the frame

Japan Gardens is a good website which sells these items as well as many other Japanese products. This tatame floor mat is £182.96.

 

As with many things, we in the UK have adapted things to be more western in style, but the new Western Japanese beds still have many of the benefits of the traditional beds, and as with many Japanese items, the simplicty is still there. Japanese beds are simple but good quality. They are made to last, and a few years down the line you really appreciate this.

There are a few good shops which stock Japanese beds.

The Futon Shop stocks futon beds such as this Nevada futon bed base. As you can see, the base is solid and made to last decades and it has the low height of a Japanese bed.

The Funky Futon Company goes one step further with this Shiki futon bed base.  The simple frame is easily assembled, so good for if you move house quite a bit.  And its low height means that it is perfect for that attic room.

The Futon Company can be found on many high streets and stocks many Japanese influenced piece so furniture.  It is good for many items, from this tatami mat for £55

to this platform bed, for £395.

The idea of a traditional Japanese bed may be too adventurous for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt the idea and enjoy it in our own way. Many of the benefits can still be found in the Western versions, so if you’re in the bed buying process, why not try a Japanese style bed?

Failing that, how about a wearable futon bed…..?!

November 29th  

“The holly and the ivy/When they are both full grown/Of all the trees that are in the wood/The holly wears the crown.”

Holly and ivy have been potent symbols of Christmas for hundreds of years, and just like in the Christmas carol they seem to go as a pair.

Originally used as symbols of pagan celebration, as the winter solstice festival slowly began to evolve into a Christian celebration holly and ivy were adopted as Christian symbols too.  In the Christian faith, holly symbolises the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross, and the red berries are the beads of blood on His brow.

Ivy needs a strong, sturdy support to grow healthily, which Christians see as symbolising the relationship between God and man.

Decorating your home with holly and ivy this Christmas is a great way to give a traditional, cosy feel – and collecting the raw ingredients can be turned into a family day out in the countryside.

Don’t forget to take a basket, some scissors and a pair of thick gloves for collecting holly, then try a few of our decorating ideas.

Holly and ivy table decorations

Holly table decoration

If you’re short of time or craft-making isn’t your thing, a few fresh holly leaves used as a table decoration can look very effective.

Ideally, use a plain dark green under cloth with a smaller white tablecloth on top. Pull off a few sturdy leaves, rinse them in cold water and lay them on kitchen paper until completely dry. Lay the leaves in groups of three with the ends of the stalks touching.

Although holly leaves will last well without water once picked, holly berries quickly shrivel and may also stain a white tablecloth, so it’s safer to use small red baubles with the leaves to give a berry effect.

Wipe ivy leaves with a damp cloth to make them shine,

Holly and ivy vase

For an easy centre piece or mantlepiece decoration, fill a green glass vase with different length pieces of holly.

Cut long strands of ivy, and carefully cut or pull off all the leaves except the eight or ten at the top. Put the bottom of the stalk in the vase, and let the rest of the ivy trail over the side of the vase.

If you like, you could also thread baubles onto florists’ wire and stick them in with the holly. Remember that the berries on fresh holly won’t last as long as the leaves and may drop onto the carpet or table.

Holly berries are poisonous, so if you have small children or pets it’s best to take the real berries off and replace them with false ones such as glass beads or baubles, which can be securely wired into place.

Green glass vases filled with holly and ivy make a simple festive statement

Above: Left – Sea Glasbruk green glass vase, £16, from The Scandinavian Shop. Right – Rosanna Opal green glass vase, £17 from Berry Red.

Holly garland

Simple holly garland

Holly and ivy are both ideal for creating your own Christmas garland.

For a real Victorian-inspired effect, use a length of thick rope. Bind short lengths of holly, ivy and fir to it with florists’ wire, then add in gilded fir cones, baubles and anything else you like.

For a lighter garland, suitable for weaving along a windowsill full of Christmas cards or decorating a festive table, use a length of parcel or real ribbon. Knot baubles to it at regular intervals. Bind holly leaves with wire in groups of three, and knot them into the ribbon.

How are you decorating your home for Christmas? Leave us a comment below!

 

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