Thursday, 24 September 2015

Iznik pottery | Pear muffins

There are a few things to be happy for this September. A new coffee house in the next village pleasantly surprised me with stylish interior design: rustic style meets industrial. I'm finding an excuse to bicycle to the post office more often only to sit down with a book and a latte before heading back home. Then there is a feature on Iznik pottery in the latest The World of Interiors issue with mesmerising motifs and colours. Downton Abbey is back with an interesting storyline and gorgeous costume design. Did you notice Lady Mary's blue kimono-style robe? What else? The heavenly scent of pear muffins baking in the oven. The little things ...

Let us start with that feature in the October issue of The World of Interiors, where art historian John Carswell reviews the catalogue The Ömer Koç Iznik Collection by Hülya Bilgi (600 pages, weighs 5 kilos, sold by John Sandoe Books). It shows the Iznik pottery collection of the Koç family, the wealthiest in Turkey. In his interesting review, Carswell briefly tells the story of the Iznik pottery industry from the beginning of the 15th century until its end 300 years later. In the old days, the formerly Byzantine town Iznik, 100 km south-east of Istanbul, flourished because of its position on the main trade route across Anatolia (Asia Minor) from the East. Today it's a 'sleepy little town' but in the late 13th century it was 'one of the first centres occupied by the Ottoman dynasty' (p. 111).

The images accompanying the article show fascinating motifs on tiles, jugs and dishes, painted in vivid colours. According to Carswell, the hallmarks of Iznik design were cobalt blue, turquoise, manganese purple, olive green and red. 'The designs combine purely Turkish motifs with elements transposed from imported Chinese blue-and-white porcelain' and he adds later that '[w]e have no clue why they chose a specific set of motifs and combined them in such a distinctive and particular way' (p. 112).

If you happen to be travelling to Turkey you may want to visit the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, to enjoy Iznik tiles. The aforementioned catalogue isn't within my current book-budget but for those interested I found two less pricy books online that I would like to have a look at and perhaps offer a permanent place on my coffee table: Iznik Pottery and Tiles: In the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection by Maria d'Orey Capucho and Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics by Walter B. Denny.

I'm not quite done with patterns. Series 6 of Downton Abbey is upon us and I am head-over-heels in love with Lady Mary's blue kimono style robe that Michelle Dockery wore gracefully in a few scenes in the first episode. I tried to find images of it online to see the pattern in detail, but I had no luck so I just paused a scene on the ITV Player and snapped photos of my tablet (please excuse the poor quality).

I don't know whether the robe/kimono is vintage or especially designed for the show but I love its cut and colour. I think costume designer Anna Robbins is doing a great job with displaying the style of the 1920s. I have to admit that the exhausting plots of the last Downton Abbey series almost made me give up on the show but I'm glad I gave it a chance on Sunday. That first episode was promising ... at least the costumes.

Spotted in these images: Benaki wallpaper sample in blue mink (LW 198381) by Lewis & Wood
and Wild Thing fabric sample in copper cobalt (LW 188335)

October is approaching and autumn is just around the corner. It's time to embrace the season and turn the pears into muffins. You should have seen my children's happy faces the other day when these were waiting for them after school.

These muffins are moderately sugary and stuffed with pears. Someone asked me recently why I use gluten-free baking powder when I bake with flour containing gluten. The simple reason is that the gluten-free baking powder from Doves Farm is my favourite. I don't like regular baking powder, which always seems to have an annoying aftertaste (use 50% less in the recipe if using regular). A note on choosing between the buttermilk and pureed pears for the wet mixture: It depends on whether the pears I use are juicy or slightly firm. If they are firm I like using pureed pears (I buy Hipp Organic jars in the baby food section), which give the muffins a richer pear taste. If using juicy and sweet pears I make my own buttermilk with milk and lemon juice (see tip below). American readers please note that 1 cup of flour is about 125-135 grams, which means there are about 2 cups in the recipe, depending on the type you use.


3 medium-sized pears
1 large egg, free-range
75 g organic unrefined cane sugar (¼ cup)
1-1½ tablespoons honey (or pure maple syrup)
1½ tablespoons coconut oil
60 ml buttermilk or organic pureed pears (¼ cup)
200 g white spelt flour (or organic plain flour)
50 g wholemeal spelt flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder, gluten-free
¼ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
optional: a pinch of ground cloves

Peel and core the pears before chopping them finely. Put them aside.

Whisk together the egg, sugar, honey, buttermilk/pureed pears, and coconut oil in a bowl (if the coconut oil is solid place the closed jar in a bowl of hot water before use). If you are making home-made buttermilk let it sit in the measuring cup for a few minutes and whisk it in when it has thickened.

Measure the spelt flour, baking powder, salt and spices into another bowl.

Fold the wet mixture gently into the dry one with a spoon or a spatula and then gently stir in the finely diced pears. At first the batter may appear dry but the pears will add moisture.

Lightly grease 12 silicone muffin cups with coconut oil, spoon the batter into them and place the cups in a muffin tin. Bake at 200°C/400°F (180°C fan oven) for 22-25 minutes. When the muffins are ready, wait for a few minutes before removing them from the silicone cups and then place them on a wire cooling rack.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

If you rather want to use buttermilk instead of pureed pears, it's very easy to make your own. Pour 60 ml (¼ cup) of milk into a measuring cup and add to it 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Stir gently and let it sit for a few minutes until it has thickened.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Lewis & Wood - The English Ethnic collection

In my last blog post I included samples from Lewis & Wood, an English textile and wallpaper company, and said I would share more later. They had sent me a stack of both fabric and wallpaper samples, some that had already attracted my attention online. The surprise were patterns they included in the package that hadn't caught my attention on their website but looked so incredibly beautiful when I was able to see the design details with my own eyes and feel the texture. I plan to share a few patterns later but today, with my latte, I'm focusing on the Womad and Bacchus patterns from their English Ethnic collection that arrived on the market last year. The collection, designed by artists Su Daybell, Flora Roberts and Melissa White, has been well received and featured in various magazines.

At Lewis & Wood they refer to Su Daybell as their wild card. She is the artist who created the arresting Womad pattern that has abstract flowers and motifs. The 100% linen fabric is available in two colours, burnish and celestial. To say that I have a major crush on the burnish one, in my top photo, would be an understatement. I honestly cannot stop admiring it. The colour palette of the Womad wallpaper consists of three beautiful hues of blue, brown and yellow, called stream, silt and sand.

In the foreground: Womad wallpaper samples in (from left) silt, sand and stream

For the collection, Daybell also designed the Force 9 pattern, suited for anyone unafraid of bold design. For those interested, a styling in the September 2014 issue of House & Garden shows it in a colour called gravel.

Bacchus wallpaper and fabric in mead by artist Melissa White

The Bacchus pattern by artist Melissa White for the English Ethnic collection is certainly on the market to stay. In the August 2015 issue of The World of Interiors its bluish colour - grigio - was selected in a round up of the best bold large-scale patterns on the market. The BBC Antiques Roadshow Magazine selected the pattern, in mead, as their winner of 'Best Printed Fabric 2014'. In their July 2014 issue they featured White at work in her studio where you can view her original artwork for the Bacchus design.

In a brochure from Lewis & Wood, introducing the collection and its designers, it says that Melissa White is well known for her Elizabethan wall paintings and painted cloths, that her "scholarly fascination with surface decoration and historical detail" give her designs a "real authority". The Bacchus pattern, 100% linen fabric and wallpaper, is available in three colours, mead, malt (greyish) and grigio. Not shown in this blog post is her other design for the collection, the Rococo wallpaper.

Decorative muralist Flora Roberts was the third artist chosen to design for the English Ethnic collection. You can view her stunning patterns Doves and Sika on the Lewis & Wood website.

Lewis & Wood was founded in 1993 by textile printer Stephen Lewis and interior designer Joanna Wood. In the beginning the operation was in a London basement but in 2008 the company moved to a large building in Woodchester Mill, in the Stroud Valleys in Gloucestershire. If you happen to be in London their showroom is on the first floor of the Design Centre East at Chelsea Harbour.

In the left corner, a detail of the Bacchus fabric in grigio by artist Melissa White

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Charleston: A Bloomsbury House & Garden

This summer my collection of coffee table books grew larger when my husband gave me a copy of Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden by Quentin Bell and his daughter Virginia Nicholson. Quentin was the son of artist Vanessa Bell (author Virginia Woolf's sister) and her husband Clive. The book tells the story of the Charleston House in Sussex, which Vanessa took on rent during World War I - by then her marriage to Clive was in name only. Her sons lived with her, and also artist Duncan Grant and his friend David Garnett, who were lovers. Actually, many years later David married her and Duncan's daughter, Angelica, who was born in the house. That is not the subject of this blog post but let's just say that relationships often got a little complicated, or shall we say interesting, within the Bloomsbury group, as the circle of friends was called (see also my recent post BBC's Life in Squares). The book about Charleston is enjoyable and the decorative details are a constant source of inspiration. This is bohemian style with a wonderful personal and artistic twist.

Vanessa Bell's bedroom, p. 58

The way the book is set up each room gets a chapter that tells its story, how it was used in the beginning and later decorated. Quentin was 85 years old when he started writing the book. He had finished the first draft when his health deteriorated. When he was unable to write his daughter, Virginia, who also knew the house well, sat with him and listened to his stories of the house and recorded them on tape. He died in 1996 and she finished the book. The chapters are divided into sections marked with their initials, so the reader always knows who's telling the story. Alen MacWeeney photographed each room for the book and every photo has a caption explaining the details. There are also old black and white photos of the inhabitants and their friends, but the house was a popular holiday home for the Bloomsbury circle.

Vanessa's bedroom, seen above, used to be the larder but in 1939 it was converted and a tiny window was replaced with a French window that opens onto the garden. I have never visited Charleston but this corner has become my favourite. Her beautiful desk is a 19th-century French fall-front secretaire. She designed the curtain fabric for the Omega Workshops in 1913. The curtains in the photo are a reproduction of the original fabric by Laura Ashley in 1986.

Duncan's sitting room in the studio, p. 67

Vanessa later negotiated a long lease on Charleston, which meant that she and Duncan were able to construct a proper studio. It was ready in 1925 with plenty of space to paint and there was a room for a sitter or model. Roger Fry, a member of the Bloomsbury group, and the founder of the Omega Workshops, helped with the construction. Part of the space became Duncan's sitting room. Duncan decorated the screen behind the chair and the panels around the fireplace in the 1930s. Later, in 1939, Vanessa turned a room on the second floor into a studio of her own.

The window in Duncan's bedroom, p. 109

Quentin writes that he has slept in all the rooms in Charleston but Duncan's bedroom remains his favourite room, having 'the most complete decorative scheme of any in the house' (p. 108). Vanessa painted the decorations in the window embrasure and she also designed the cover of the antique French window seat.

In Clive Bell's study, p. 47

The above photo shows Clive Bell's study, which used to be a living room. Clive had been a frequent visitor at Charleston but in 1939 he moved in. Vanessa painted the window embrasure in 1916-17. Duncan decorated the tiles set into the tabletop in the 1920s or 1930s.

Until I am able to visit the Charleston House (see their website for opening hours) I will enjoy its rooms and decorative objects in my book. My only regret is not having the hardcover edition because I know that this book will become more precious than others on my coffee table.

A constant source of inspiration, indeed.

Zarafshan linen fabric in rust/slate by Lewis & Wood

A final note: All the textile samples I used in the styling are from Lewis & Wood. The fabric, inspired by the Eastern Suzani tradition, is Zarafshan, made from 100% linen. It is available in various colours, three shown here: In the first two images Indigo/Cranberry (LW 101183), the third Turquoise/Lime (LW 101182), and in the last two Rust/Slate (LW 101180). More on Lewis & Wood later.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Review: JORD wood watches - the Cora

This summer I was invited to join the JORD wood watches team. I only had to choose a watch, wear it and describe my experience. The moment I saw the Cora on the website there was no turning back, the turquoise one with the zebrawood was the watch I wanted. The funny thing is that I hadn't worn a watch for ages and had had no plans to pick up that old habit. Suddenly, the Cora, soon to arrive in the mail, was having strange effects on me. I realised that I was already in love with it, so the question was: Would it live up to my expectations?

To answer the question above: Yes, it did! The box arrived swiftly from St. Louis, Missouri. The packaging was beautiful: a wooden box that immediately read craftsmanship. When I opened I found my stunning Cora secured around a soft cushion, embroidered with the word JORD. It's the Swedish and Danish word for earth. The watch, custom-sized before shipping, fit me perfectly (extra links included in the box). I have to admit that before putting it on I just sat and stared at it, for quite some time.

The book on my table: Icelandic Landscapes by Daniel Bergmann

The design is beautiful; attention is paid to every detail. The handmade luxury watch has natural zebrawood, a sapphire crystal glass and Swarovski crystal markers. A buckle with a push button is attached to the wood, making it easy to put it on/take it off. I was surprised by the lightweight of the watch; I had imagined it heavier. The part I love is that it requires no battery; the drive system is self-winding. I was younger than ten when I last had a self-winding watch and now I'm enjoying this daily ritual of winding it.

Perhaps it sounds strange but to me the watch somehow goes beyond the stage of being just a watch, as if it has a deeper meaning. It could be the wood or the enchanting turquoise hue that reminds me of colours in Icelandic landscape. Each time I look at the dial the hue feels different, depending on the reflection of light.

The name of the watch - JORD - also reminds me of my Nordic roots. In Icelandic it's jörð. In Norse mythology, Jörð is the earth goddess. She is the wife of Odin, the chief God and their son is Thor, the God of Thunder. Clearly, I'm not the only one connecting the watch with Nordic roots. My son was so excited about the styling and photographing that he brought his stone collection and showed me a photo of a Viking shield in one of his books. I had to use it … with latte, naturally.

I couldn't be more satisfied with my JORD wood watch, a timeless piece that will always stay in style. On the JORD website the watches are described as 'hand-crafted wood timepieces that tell a story.' Sometimes when I put it on I just want to wear my favourite comfortable pieces, grab my passport and a weekender bag, and just go somewhere. No phone, no computer; only the beautiful Cora as my guide.

You see, the story of mine is just beginning!

This post is part of the 'JORD wood watches' visual marketing campaign. The watch featured and reviewed is the Cora - Zebrawood & Turquoise. Words, images and views are my own.

Luxury Wood Watch