Monday, 27 February 2017

The Great Curtain Cover-Up

In these few short months I have had the privilege to live in this charming old house, I learned a few practical lessons in restoration work, but most valuably, gained some patience to help me cope with the fact that we cannot start putting everything right all at once

As our beloved N°21 had been empty for over a decade, the first steps in restoring this house to its former glory were intended simply to make it habitable again.  Coming to the end of February, we have succeeded in crafting ourselves an adorably bohemian bedroom where there used to be nothing but dirt and dead bats, a dinky but functional modular kitchen and a two unfinished but comfortable rooms of living and dining space.  Not to mention the little loo of horrors we turned into the clean and functional bathroom it is now.

But after all of the absolutely necessary work is done – where do you go next? 

There is some structural work to be done in the next few years including patching up parts of the roof and insulating the entire attic floor as well as re-framing spaces to accommodate a few toilets and a large kitchen-diner.  All the plasterwork can be assessed and fixed once the frame of the building dries, most likely during next summer and the shutters, window sills and doors need to be painted before next year’s winter storms.

This is not a weekend project – we would love to be able to finish bulk of it in five years, but you never know.  Old houses are like hen-dos in Vegas; if you don’t keep your cool they can drain all your money, soon followed by your will to live.  So as we are still getting used to living Chez Nous, we are taking it easy, for now, assessing our priorities and harbouring an uncomfortably close relationship with Pinterest.

Don’t get me wrong, understanding our priorities won’t make me hate the rough edges of our dwelling any less!  On the contrary.  But before the time comes to start hammering out the crap, I must be creative in hiding what I can’t change in the interim.  From the long list of complaints, the time has come for the raw concrete scarring in our current dining room.  I can’t start plastering it out yet, nor is it sensible as we have plans to extend the existing French doors with a panoramic window.  The next best thing, naturally, is to hide the problem and pretend it does not exist – and this is exactly what I set out to do when I started sewing curtains for an imaginary window.

Our dining room before we moved in and after some light touch-ups, including partial wallpaper removal.  The bare patch of concrete sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Luckily I had plenty of fabric to cover up the whole mess.  While looking for décor for our wedding in Finland last December, we raided a Finlayson Outlet Store in my old home town in Forssa and picked up over 10 meters of their Kihla-fabric from a bargain bin of off-cuts.  Designed by Sami Vulli, the pattern is inspired by Finlayson’s graphic motifs from the 60’s and 70’s, and features stylised wedding rings*.  Although we needed to cut some of the cotton we bought in order to have enough table runners for the wedding, I managed to sew two sets of narrow panel curtains, one wider curtain and a new doggy bed cover for our Rusty with a good couple of meters still remaining.

*Although we did not know it at the time. I literally just googled the name of the pattern for this blog.
The happy nuptials: These snaps are from our very hand crafted wedding. We needed to cut some of the fabric for the table runners, but no-sewing was required, merely a creative hand wielding an iron.   

I have always been a fan of Finlayson.  To be honest it could not be avoided growing up in a city like Forssa where a large selection of their fabrics used to be made.  Comparing Finlayson textiles to other better known Finnish producers such as Marimekko, theirs were always the working horse of fabrics and soft furnishings, durable and affordable, but no less iconic from their rivals.  In the recent years they have re-introduced a load of their old classics, from retro patterns to the Moomins, and launched new lines that turned out to be amazingly popular such as the Tom of Finland collection.  As Finlayson Co is getting increasingly known overseas, especially in East-Asia, the prices have increased too.  We were able to rummage through their bargains and buy our Kihla-fabric for 15€ a kilo, but I would have happily dished out the full price (approx. 20-25€ per metre) for this lovely piece of thick cotton – in my experience it is hard wearing and washes well without losing colour.

But going back to the task at hand:  sewing curtains can be just as easy or as hard as you want and I made mine super simple.

I will be adding a white liner when these are hanging on an actual window, but for the minute I left the back side blank to enable me to adjust the length easily if needed.  Having zig-zagged all the rough edges to avoid fraying I pressed my seams before sewing them to make everything run as smoothly as possible.  Not really being a sewing-wizard myself, these curtains turned out surprisingly nicely.  

The most difficult part was to get the pattern match between both double panels, especially when most of these bits I used for the curtains had been half-arsedly ripped to size for the wedding.  The whole project took me around a day from ironing the properly ruffled up fabric to finishing the hems.  One of the panels is a tiny bit shorten than its peers and another still bears a faint ghost of red wine spilled at the merriment of our marriage ceremony, but hey, they’ll do fine for the job. The two picked our for this project were roughly the cleanest and just wide enough to cover that fugly wall.  So bye bye nasty concrete – hello retro vibes!

After: finished curtains in situ

I had the whole 6’6 of James helping me with the rods, thankfully.  Getting them somewhat levelled on my own would have been a mission impossible, especially as the ceiling in this room sags just enough to make everything look crooked regardless.  In fact, we had to fix them in place twice, perfectly level at first and then crooked to match the profile of the ceiling - now the end result appears somewhat straight.   

Tackling this little eye sore really came to show that putting things out of sight does get them off your mind.  Or I am just pretty good avoiding life’s little pitfalls!  Either way, this dining room is slowly but surely starting to feel like home. 

Sorry what... A G&T? Don't mind if I do! 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

DIY Lightbox

I am about to take all the credit for it, but this DIY is really a creation of my darling James’ gadget oriented imagination.  In fact, it was he who salvaged this long forgotten print screen of mine when visiting family in Finland and thought about turning it into a light box.  The pattern, or more accurately, a negative of a pattern the screen was made for, would have looked nice enough on our wall without additional fiddling, but fixing an LED-system behind the frame really helped to bring out the beauty of this relic from my teenage past.

And making one yourself is dead easy; all you need is a frame of some description, covered with a material that lets light through and a strip of LED-lights.  We used a self-adhesive kit, but other kind of lights would do just fine.  

The light box in situ in our boho bedroom. 

Screens such as these are most commonly used in all sorts of printing from artist books to textiles such as T-shirts and tote bags.  This one, however, was a tool in producing large scale custom-patterned linen as a part of my Textiles and Printed Fabrics-course in the School of Visual Arts for Children in Forssa back in 2005.  My group was one of the first to use their brand new textile classroom and our mission was to design patterns inspired by the history of the area the school was based in - the grounds of an old Finlayson textile mill.

My pattern, depicting circular details found around the old spinning mill, manhole covers, factory lights and drains, was printed on linen in two variants; olive- and lime green.  I ended up selling some of the fabric, made a few tote-bags and, as most fifteen year olds would, forgot all about it until my mother dug out the last of it and turned it into a duvet cover set.  That turned out to be one of the most thoughtful gifts me and James received on our wedding day last December.

Our DIY lightbox made of a screen used in textile printing and our bed, made with textiles I printed as a teenager with this very same screen. 

The screen in its wooden frame, however, was forgotten a long time ago.  My mother did not want to throw it away – after all, it was rather expensive gizmo to buy for a fifteen year old at the time, and I am glad she did not!  Having finally found its home with us in France, we set out to find the best way to display it in our new home.  James thought we would have the best contrast of the blue (the medium used to transfer the negative of the desired image onto the screen) and white areas (the bare mesh where the ink would be able to transfer through) if we would light it up, thus he promptly went and bought a remote control LED-strip, normally meant to illuminate telly stands and the underbellies of cabinets.

As mentioned, the light strip was self-adhesive and attached easily to the back side of my wooden frame.  Although the strip could be shortened to length, I chose to wrap the whole 5 meters of it around the frame giving me almost 3 full laps of lighting power behind the screen.  For additional durability, I finished the job with a few staples on the corners and along the sides where the lights could come loose with time.  The kit set us back 15 euros at our local ACTION store, but you could find similar LED-strips either at a homeware store or online.  This model came with a dimmer and a remote controller which is a pretty nifty detail, especially as we both are proper lazy, but most importantly, so that I could hide the manual control panel, similar to those on common Christmas lights, permanently on the back of the frame.

The light box comes with a remote dimmer and an off switch - lazy sleepers dream! 

I am aware that printing screens are not that common to come by when searching for materials for your own lightbox, but a wooden frame covered with a loosely knit fabric such as lace would look pretty amazing too.  Holiday lights can be used as a substitute for the adhesive strip that I chose to use, but make sure you stick with the LED’s – old style bulbs, although tiny, heat up and can be a dangerous when installed too close to fabrics. 

Happy crafting! 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

My Modular Kitchen

This is just one of the quirks of the land o'baguette I suppose, but it is not out of the ordinary for houses, especially rentals, or ex-rentals such as ours, to survive on the most basic kitchen amenities: a sink in a corner and if you are lucky, a few rows of tiles.  Perhaps this is due to the French renters preferring separate pieces and their own appliances or because a fitted kitchen scores higher on the old tax bracket for the homeowners, but this is how it has always been.  As the French would put it - bof

Je ne sais pas

We were dead lucky that both of the rooms intended as kitchens in this house had, besides from the gorgeous porcelain sinks, not one but two cupboards! The second of these little kitchenettes could even boast with a small glass-fronted cabinet - a conversion of a blocked window, but neither had any counter space.  Choosing between the two was easy though: the second had more storage and a floor to die for whereas the roof of the first was leaking. 

I know... bof.  

Our tiddly kitchen before the deep clean:  This is a pretty typical set up in older houses in France, and we were lucky to have any cupboards at all.

But worry not, dear reader, as we knew how to deal with this kitchenlessness.  And no, I am not talking about Papa Johns!  We previously lived with a similar pseudo-cuisine in Bretagne and already had all the necessary components for a fully functional modular kitchen.  Engineered and tested by my dear James, perhaps the cheffiest gentleman on this side of the Montagne Noire, our set up is tight but works pretty damn well even if I say so myself. 

The biggest hoarder of space in this narrow kitchen is the fridge-freezer; the bastards only fitted in the middle of the room, but having a spacious fridge is something I would not want to compromise on, not even for the sake of good feng shui.  On the flip side, we do not have a conventional hob or an oven; instead we use a portable induction place that hides away under our make-shift butchers block counter and a non-fixed oven that is housed inside a trifted side table.  I believe the application sits on two pieces of mdf board, one of which is a discarded painting of mine. Recycling is good m'kay.  In Bretagne we lost valuable space for the microwave that used to sit on the counter, but we were able to place it inside a cupboard that was conveniently missing its door. Voilà! 

The hot plate normally nests under the butchers block and it's light enough to be lifted easily on top when needed.. let's say, when making a light mid night snack...
Our main work space is basically a modified architects table: a thick piece of pine, sanded, treated with danish oil and hoisted on a pair of adjustable legs.  The oven-side-table-combo  was originally designed to fit under this counter, with the hotplate being stored between the two but in this instance we needed a short piece of furniture to sit under the glass cabinet so we moved it around.  The additional prep space turned out to be useful too. 

The space savers: The antique unit on the far left holds most of our ambient food and the wine crate on top of it is the home of our spice collection.  The little oven is housed inside an old side table that fits snugly under the glass cabinets.  We lived with the "doors" of the converted window-turned glass cabinet at first, but chose to remove them for easier access to our goblets.  

This kitchen has a fair bit of open and exposed storage and although I am not generally a fan of clutter, the maximalist approach was the only realistic one.  We simply have too many things to tuck away neatly.  And there are examples of our hoard that I actually like to have out in the open, such as my collection of Finnish design glass and James' elegant set of copper pans, but some, let's say the scanky jar of Marmite that expired on the first half of 2014 should be meant for our eyes only.

Most of our cook- and tableware is stored in the built-ins where as the food hides inside the wooden art nouveau-ish cabinet.  Although we both prefer to fill our lives with trift-store treasures such as that, the space would not be as functional without the little acquisitions from everyone's favourite Swedish furniture giant.  The ever versatile Raskog cart deserves a special mention for providing a home for our extensive condiment collection.  The IKEA shelf dividers and trays set out places for our heap of kitchen crap, but this mini kitchen is, as many dinky interiors tend to be, still just one misplaced plate away from complete chaos. 

A place for everything and everything in its place. 

Having a place for everything is paramount in keeping a pint sized kitchen tidy.  Each module, each pot and every jar, in fact everything in this kitchen has their own set function.  Even the dishwasher, currently not hooked up, houses lesser used odds and sods.  And for us, it works just fine.  And we cook an awful lot, from elaborate Sunday lunches to quick weeknight bites and brunches.  Although this modular set up is temporary - we are planning to built a bigger fitted kitchen downstairs in a few years time, we chose not to compromise on the functionality of our cooking space in favour of a less crowded, airier cuisine.

Depending on your needs, a modular kitchen can be just as functional as a fitted one and it doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg.  As small space living is becoming increasingly popular, you do not need to be a carpenter to built a set up that works for you.  IKEA launched a tiny all in one-kitchen just last year and similar units can be found from most home improvement stores.  And the best part?  If you get bored or have a change or heart - bof.  All you need is a free afternoon and a bit of grunt to re-configure your units for a "new" kitchen. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

the Forgotten Symbolism of Ornament

Time to get your tin hats on folks, as this week I'll be rambling on about the forgotten symbolism present in the turn of the century design in Europe, inspired by a particular piece of plaster work in my own historic home.  From the symbols of catholic saints to the marks of the funny handshake brigade, I will try to get to the bottom of the odd ornaments chosen by the people who built this house in 1910. 

Let us start with a little lesson in art history: 

Towards the end of the 19th century and as a counteraction to what was seen as the emotionally poor strife for realism in art, the symbolists wanted to get back in touch with the the invisible and the mysterious - their psyches.  As defined by Michael Gibson in his book Symbolism: "Less an artistic movement than a state of mind";, the artists and artisans inspired by symbolist ideas never formed a defined style or a movement, but greatly affected the development of others such as Art Nouveau in France, BeNeLux and the UK, the Jugend Style in Central Europe, Russia, Scandinavia and Spain and the National Romantic Movement, most prominent in Norway and Finland.  Idealistically exhausting itself by the beginning of the First World War, symbolism acted as a bridge between the impressionist and expressionist way of seeing the world, standing between the old and the new at the dawn of modernism.  

Examples of symbolist painting (left to right): Gustav Klimt Hope 1 (1903), Félicien Rops Pornocratès (1878), William Blake The Great Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun  (1806), Francisco Goya Saturn Devouring His Son (1819-1823).  Klimt and Rops representing similar symbolist ideas that Goya and Blake were pioneering in the beginning of the 19th century. 

Although painters such as Paul Gauguin were known to travel far and wide for inspiration, symbolism was predominantly a European phenomenon, mixing together old superstition and Christian iconography together with themes of the early industrial age.  Allegorical, biblical and often melancholic, symbolist artists` favourite themes were love and loss - especially the loss of innocence, dreams vs. nightmares, coming of age and sexuality as well as passing of time and death.  Although not necessarily by a conscious choice, it was a dominantly male movement that had reserved two seats for women they so often fetishised in their works: the seat of a mother or a femme fetale - a whore. 

On a completely unrelated subject, I'll firmly recommend reading about the history of syphilis after the industrial revolution in Europe.  Illuminating read, truly. 

Paul Gauguin Arearea (1892), Hugo Simberg, the Garden of Death (1896). The red fox in the first picture by Gauguin symbolises sexuality and coming of age. 

But enough about the artsy-fartsy semantics: long before the adaptation of openly symbolist language into liberal arts, our ancestors, mostly illiterate and superstitious, used symbols to decorate and to communicate - just think about the image of a skull and crossed bones that today is near universally understood as a sign of danger and death.  The typical heart shape, 
an ideograph of the heart, has been used to express the idea of romantic love since the 14th century.  Folk art, religious iconography and the art of illustration, not even discussing the complex mannerism of literature and the performing arts, had been shrouded in symbolism long before the painters of the 19th century took notice.  The exotic and intriguing language of symbols was all the rage in the Victorian England, too, as the mood turned melancholic in the hangover years after the industrial revolution. 

Decorative symbols, warning symbols, coats of arms, pictorial traffic signs, badges, logos... the list is endless, are an integral part of the cacophony of visual information we are bombarded with.  The meaning of popular symbols, however, is not always fixed.  For example, the swastika - the feared and loathed symbol of Nazism in today's Europe, is a popular symbol of the god Vishnu when drawn clockwise and a symbol of the goddess Kali when drawn anticlockwise in Hindu religion, dating back a millennium.  Due to its easily repeated form, the swastika has been a common ornament in decoration, especially in embroidery, since the invention of embroidery.  For more of a contemporary example, just think of the "save icon" on your computer and how it has evolved, in less than 20 years, from a literal depiction of the format used to store data, into a general symbol of saving information. 

The times they are a-changin'...

Naturally, countless of symbols get ignored or become obsolete, and after a time, forgotten.  How long will it take for our insignia, lets say a sign for a wheelchair space or the Starbucks logo, to start looking like meaningless decoration?  

My home, like most homes built before the wars, was decorated with an array of ornamental detail from plaster reliefs to marble fireplaces.  A leading Victorian authority on ornamentation, Owen Jones (1809-1876), sees decoration as a fundamental desire of man to create.  In his Grammar of Ornament published in 1856, he has this to say about the nature of decoration:
"Construction should be decorated. Decoration should never be purposely constructed. That which is beautiful is true; that which is true must be beautiful."
Built originally with a neo-classicist flair mimicking the grandiose houses of the bourgeoisie in Mazamet, my home is a typical example of a townhouse from the beginning of the 20th century in the industrial South.  It was originally a crèmerie, habited by a family of cheese mongers, complete with two beautiful cheese cellars, three floors of living space, a garden and an outhouse, situated on a street dominated by businesses on both sides and a large protestant church.  The leather and textile industry here was just starting to pick up speed, drawing people from the surrounding countryside and streets such as mine could easily be built up within a decade.

From the original detailing chez nous, the most intricate piece of ornamentation is hands down the surviving plaster work.  What would have been a thick, possibly ornate crown moulding was removed in the sixties in an effort to mod this place up, but two full panels of decorative plaster work were kept above the fireplaces in two of the grandest rooms.  These plaster reliefs were commonly arranged into a shape of a frame, and mine are loosely neoclassical in style, featuring motifs re-popularised by the renaissance revival.   

Arabesque-style frescoes in late renaissance-style from Owen Jones' the Grammar of Ornament 

This is my lounge, there are many like it, but this one is mine. 

The detail in our lounge, what would have been the original formal salon, is pretty well preserved.  Most of the ornaments in this frieze are typical examples of classicist flora and fauna; the top horizontal panel is decorated with foliage of anthemion, a motif of ancient Greek origin, interspersed with heavily stylised bouquets of acanthus, in turn popularised by the ancient Romans.  Tops of the left and right vertical panels, featuring a shallow arabesque-style detail, are capped off by a suggested Corinthian capitals, again, archetypal for the periods classical revival architecture.  

This decorative panel was built to house a mirror and is a typical, if not an ordinary example of a period feature.  Several examples, some more sophisticated, some not, in both wood and in plaster, can be found in townhouses of a similar age - except for the fact that ours has snakes in it. A pair of Caduceus' to be exact.  Nested between a pair of primroses and a stack of branches, the staff of Hermes - two serpents intertwined around a winged pole, rests above a pair of crossed arrows, hiding in plain sight.  Although beautiful, it is clear this part of the frieze meant something beyond mere fashion to the people who commissioned it over a hundred years ago. 

The Caduceus, although often mistaken as the Rod of Asclepius - the symbol of medicine, is a symbol for commerce.  A fitting touch in a house built by merchants.  Commonly depicted with a pair of wings at the top of the staff, the symbols association with trade comes from being linked to the Greek god Hermes (or Mars, the Roman interpretation of the same divinity) who, among other things, was the protector of merchants and tradesmen.

The interest in the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome had been growing steadily since the renaissance, but the archaeological discoveries in the 19th century around the Mediterranean and high profile exhibitions of classicist art, such as the anglification of the so called Elgin Marbles from the Greek temple of Parthenon, made the study of the antiques incredibly fashionable and helped to popularise the various classic revival movements in applied arts all around Europe. 

It is evident the family that built my home also appreciated classical symbolism, but what is the meaning of the rest of this motif?  The crossed arrows, for example, is a popular mark of friendship today, especially in contemporary tattoos and illustration where the meaning is derived from native American symbolism.  In Europe, however, arrows, especially in heraldry, are knows to symbolise conflict and war; single arrow standing for martial readiness and an arrow with a cross representing affliction on the battlefield.  It is reasonable to assume the crossed arrows are referring to a military conflict and the direction of the arrowheads, here pointing upwards, could indicate a victory, general defiance or hope.

It's by no means an uncommon symbol: before being adopted by the hipsters, the crossed arrows were used as a pottery mark by a German manufacturer Porzellanfabrik Kalk from 1850 until their closure in 1976 as well as a Japanese dupe company in the 1950's.  It was also a central motif on the old Swedish ör coinage before the introduction of krona in 1873 Here, too, the meaning of the symbol must have stemmed from heraldry, but my further investigation drew a blank.  Heck - I even checked the known symbols of the freemasons. Another blank. So I decided to turn to God and read about the symbolism of catholic saints, knowing this would have been a catholic household.  Frustratingly, nothing obvious cropped up; St. Ursula is often seen holding an arrow and St. Sebastian pierced by a few more, but the connection felt too loose.  

There must have been a concrete reason why the crossed arrows ended up on the background of the serpents, but I couldn't seem to figure it out. 

Then, after referring back and forth with a guide of heraldic symbolism I finally checked the actual heraldry of this region... and BINGO!  Or may I say Blauvac.  A mere four hours away from here, in the department of Vaucluse, nests a rural commune with a coat of arms of crossed arrows with their tips in the air, on a bright green background.  Could it be that my family came from Blauvac?  Short look at the history of the tiny village tells me about the arrival of the first telephone connection in 1926, followed by the first power lines and electricity in 1928, indicating that the area must have been pretty damn deprived at the time my cheese mongers settled in Mazamet - one of the richest provincial towns in the South due to the immense wealth created by the industries of the Montagne Noire.  

A closer inspection of the wings on the top of the Caduceus reveal another interesting quirk - that they are those of a honeybee rather than the wings of a bird as normally expected.  An insignificant detail if it wasn't for the fact that one of the symbols of Mazamet is - you guessed it - a honeybee, prominently present in the Mazamet coat of arms as a symbol of the heavy industry.  If you ask me, it seems who ever designed this little crest and placed it so prominently on the centerpiece of the grandest room in the house was proud about their trade as well as their roots.

Coat of arms of Blauvac featuring crossed arrows, a sign of military power and conflict with the coat of arms of Mazamet, featuring a cock, a sign of  great courage in battle and honeybees that stand for of industry and creativity.  There are three bees in the crest, one for each dominant industry: textiles, leather and pelts.  The colours of the crests are equally important: green stands for freedom, joy, beauty and hope where blue signifies steadfastness, strength, truth and loyalty.  

The other plaster relief, in our current bedroom, is a 1920's addition and in poor condition.  The detail has suffered after being painted with heavy gloss over the years and some of the trims are crooked or asymmetrical.  Situated above a simple wooden fireplace surround, this ornament is Greek-revival style with a hefty nod towards art deco.  There are no serpents and no crests in this frame, in fact, no symbolism at all that would go beyond the aims of decoration. 

The Greek revival-mantel.  Note the beautiful portrait of my dear James - he's changed glasses since it was drawn. Thank Cheesus for that. 
I would love to think the revamp of the third floor salon/chambre, that we know was finished around 1924, was done by the couple that built this house.  Homes like these used to be passed down in the family alongside the family business, often while multiple generations lived and worked under the same roof.  We know the crèmerie was still up and running, along with many of the other businesses on this street, in the late 1950's, as confirmed by our plumber who was born on this street.  Today, the Caduceus might be the only visual clue of the family that once lived and loved here, but perhaps the more we continue to dig around, the more there is to be found about their lives here.

My father is a builder and regularly collects things left behind by builders like him generations before; packs of cigarettes, coins, items of clothing and scraps of paper, letters even, but this is a first time, in a domestic dwelling, where I've seen a message or a brand left behind by the inhabitants, encrypted in symbols.  I am convinced leaving traces such as these, little clues, is more common than people think.  Just like with us, the signs were always there, just hiding in plain sight.

From all the symbols in the world, the caduceus seems oddly fitting, thinking about us, the current owners of this house, being both self employed.  The shop downstairs has been empty nearly fifty years, but I have plans to re-open it for the summer, this time, reincarnated as an artists studio and a gallery.  Somehow I think the family of the crèmerie would approve.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Les Nouveaux Bohémiens

Rant warning! The following content may not be suitable for hipsters or anybody who wants to be a modern bohemian.

Bohemian style, rescued from obscurity by Coachella going fashionable millennials and the pesky bike-riding hipsters of this world*, has been mainstream for a while now.  Despite of, in principle, being a movement of unconventionality, today the bohemian decor is available to buy in any home store near you. 

And frankly I think this is a bit of a pity. 

Bohemian interiors are layered, casual and quirky.  I stumbled on an old Buzzfeed piece on boho style whilst researching (procrastinating) for this blog and I think the writer, Peggy Wang, sums up the feel of typical bohemian homes better than I ever could: 
"Lush exotic fabrics, perfectly disheveled pillows, and overgrown foliage - these are the trademarks of the cozy yet eclectic bohemian aesthetic."
Being a visual artist as well as a walking talking stereotype, I have been invited to a few rather bohemian households and I can concur, this is pretty much true - aesthetically anyway.  These spaces, thinking about a beautiful home of a couple that traveled the world in love, a shared flat of young and curious individuals, or a conventional house full of un-conventional memories in the middle of the "Middle-England", were not decorated to be bohemian - they grew around their owners like a well maintained garden would, with care and time. 

Bohemian interiors from Buzzfeed

Sure, you can take Ms. Wangs advice and hit the charity shops and the flea markets for your own piece of eclectic cool, or you could wait and see what life brings your way.  The boho style has been hot enough for several years that all sorts of bohemian goods are available to be consumed, from the high end boho chic brands such as anthropologie to the offerings of the trusted opium for the masses-giant IKEA.  Lets look at the example of Moroccan wedding blankets, the readers of popular design blogs will know exactly what I am talking about, the ultimate bedding accessory of 2015 - I would be lying if I said I did not like them.  They are beautiful objects, trendy, expensive.. proper showcases, but there is just one problem: I already have a good blanket.

My blankie, as scruffy as they come, has multicoloured spots on a white background and I paid 3.99£ for it in Pound Stretcher right next to the Meadowbank Sainsbury's in Edinburgh about seven years ago.  It's made or 100% polyester and I wouldn't change it for the world.

My "incidentally" bohemian bedroom.

My relationship with decor has always been complicated: When I moved to my first flat back in 2006, still living in Finland, I had practically no furniture beyond my childhood bed.  My mum stepped in, teamed up with a few relatives and collected everything a young person could need to set up their first home.  I was almost sixteen and in my head a fully grown adult.  Four years later I moved to Edinburgh to study painting and my sister, in turn just about to move into her first apartment, inherited all of my furniture and the nick-nacks I used as decoration.

Like most students, I moved several times whilst in uni, sometimes living on my own, sometimes sharing with friends or befriending the strangers I moved in with.  Although I carried a suitcase full of things back from Finland to Scotland on each of my visits, I always purged away twice the amount when I moved house. By the time I moved in with my future husband I had two suitcases full of clothes and three IKEA bags of other stuff and this was roughly the sum of my worldly belongings.

Thankfully, he did have furniture of his own; very nice furniture, things that he had collected in good time, with pride and love.  He is a maximalist with more clothes than I have, a brilliant taste regarding antique pieces and he shares my appetite for drifting.  We have, successfully may I add, bought furniture together; done the IKEA relationship test, haggled in a depot vente (a sort of a flea market), and replaced some of our old things with new, some of which were expensive and some on a budget.  Our decor is an eclectic mix of old and new, high and low-end - a bit... bohemian

Interior details from our little old house, with raw plaster walls and pealing wallpaper. 

I never thought of myself as a bohemian before. Never. Not even in the middle of my art studies with the evenings spent in pubs discussing painting and sex with other fashionably artistic millenials.  Bohemians, for me, don't shop at Lidl and they certainly don't store their H&M undies in a MALM dresser and enjoy watching the Embarrassing Bodies or the Jeremy Kyle Show.  To be honest, I think the culprit is this house - there is nothing more romantic than the idea of a creative couple living in a crumbling old house with charming period detail in the middle of the most picturesque France.  

With a dog.  

We did not set ourselves out to become cliches of bohemian living, it merely crept up on us and I guess this is how most interiors loved by the people who live in them are born. Just like all good gardens, with care and time.  Once we get going with the plaster work in this house, paint the walls and patch a few not-so-discrete holes on our ceilings, our dwelling will start looking more conventional again.  I like the rustic boho look we got going for the time being, but I would never pay a designer to recreate it.  Just as one might walk to Anthropologie today and pick up a piece of exotic old world chic to crown their eclectic lives, I imagine it could never feel the same as haggling for it in the bazaars of North Africa.  

Avocados growing on an IKEA stepstool - is this what hipsters are made of?

I feel immensely privileged to be able to live where I do and it works for us well.  Part of our choice to live in the South of France is to do with the relatively cheap cost of living, especially the price of property.  Like many, we would have not stood a change in owning our home in the UK where the system does not exactly favour the self employed, especially those working in arts.  Just like the bohemian artists that flooded the quarters of the poor in Paris at the end of the 19th century - we are part of the cycle of gentrification that is more relevant today than never before.

This is why I am cynical about the boho-craze: nothing is ever as simple as it looks.  Les Bohémiens of the golden age of Paris were mostly an ideal constructed by themselves; Henry Toulouse-Lautrec, the epitome of a poor bohemian artist, came from a wealthy aristocratic family who supported their son financially enabling him to pursue his artistic merits and live the jolly good la Vie de Bohéme.  To appreciate the bohemian aesthetic is fine as is living the bohemian life, I am not trying to point the finger on anybody, but this style, like any trend, is also a gargantuan business venture.  Boho-chic enterprises such as Coachella in the States, to use an obvious example, look like great fun, but let's not forget the fact that the cost of tickets for the weekend is more than most people pay in rent each month. 

The cozy, laid back bohemian feel of these types of events and products is often just an illusion.  Using the undying words of Dolly Parton: "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap."

Raw plaster wall in our bedroom

An quick search of bohemian interiors on Pinterest reveals a never ending stream of beautifully curated eclectic interiors from all around the world.  On a lot of cases replicating a look like that would be a choice between a new decor or a new car.  A few of us can afford to complete a process such as furnishing a home in one blast, but worry not - the process can be just as rewarding when you take, yes I am going to repeat the punch line one more time, time and care with your choices.

Want to live like a new bohemian? Hit the flee market, anthro or your local asda - and get only the things that you need.  Focus on the stuff that reminds you of good times and good people or what you really, really love.  With this set of guidelines you can't go wrong.  Trends, they come and go, so you might as well do you.  This is what visiting other peoples delightfully eclectic, cozy and totally bohemian homes has thought me.  

*Drops mike - rant over*

*Disclamer: You might meet me driving around on my vintage Motobecane bike, rocking a sundress-winter-scarf-combo.  I grow avocados on my lounge, like craft beer and I have a degree in fine art.. So dear hipsters - don't hate me, I'm one of you.