Emilio made his first fashion blog! Check him out here.
Of all the recent interiors trends, one in particular stands out as seeming a total wheeze: upcycling. This is where you take a knackered piece of furniture, cover it in paint/a jaunty fabric and either a) sell it on at vast profit, or b) keep it and smugly tell anyone who’ll listen how little it cost.
Naturally I thought I’d give this a go myself. So I found a bunch of old café chairs in need of TLC, bought some overpriced paint in a fashionable shade of grey and set about transforming them.
It wasn’t long before I was thinking, I could make this a business. I could get a market stall and sell pieces I’ve picked up for a song at far-flung auction houses and charity shops. I’d be giving new life to old junk. It’s sustainable, productive, creative, potentially lucrative: who could ask for more from their work?
Misha pissed on my parade by asking where exactly I was planning to store all this stuff, and pointing out that getting up at 4.30am in January to flog furniture might not be something I’m cut out for.
In any case, painting them took FUCKING AGES. I mean, like, weeks, because first you have to wait for the weather to be nice enough to leave them outside. Then there’s the whole tedious undercoat process. When finally you’ve finished one, you have to muster the enthusiasm to paint another, and another, until if you see another fucking half-painted chair you think you’ll scream with the sheer, aching repetitiveness of it all.
Problem two: they look crap. Rubbish. Like a classic botched DIY job. You need to be a more skilled painter than me to avoid drips, patchiness and just plain forgetting to do bits. Problem three: it turns out that paint is a terrible surface for dining chairs. Food is a bitch to get off them, which is a problem if you’ve a toddler, as your chairs end up with an extra coat of congealed porridge. Later it turns out that the café chairs you bought were so useless, they start falling apart. The final insult comes when the bastard paint you spent forever applying, flakes off.
Six months on, I need new dining chairs. This time I may be going to Ikea.
In this photo it looks (almost) OK. Trust me, in real life it’s much, much worse.
One of the nice things about living in the capital is that, when you travel and strangers ask where you’re from, you get to reply ‘London’ in a tone that says, ‘Go on then, trump that.’ Lewes, unfortunately, lacks this brag factor, being a small town near Brighton few people outside Sussex have heard of and fewer still can pronounce (it’s Lew-es, like John, not Loos.) It’s a lovely place nonetheless, full of winding twittens and olde-worlde buildings – not poker-up-the-arse posh, but smart enough that you can pick up MiH jeans and REN skincare in the high street.
For the South East it’s unusually leftie, home to its share of Guardian journalists (including Polly Toynbee and Nick Davies, of hacking-scandal fame). Other notables include that Brummie one off the Fast Show and Arthur Brown (You know. ‘I am the god of hell fire, and I bring you… Fire! Da-da-da-da-da…’)
The town attracts numerous DFLs like me, along with lots of hippies and alternative types who like the idea of living in Brighton but secretly think it’s a bit rough. It’s well worth a daytrip, particularly if you’re furnishing a house, as there are about a thousand antiques shops, all miles cheaper than their London counterparts. And, unlike many English towns, Lewes has some excellent places to eat, places that pass the London test (as in: would I eat here if it was in London?)
It’s an hour and nine minutes from Victoria, which is about the same time it takes to get across town, so you’ve no excuse. And if you do come, I recommend you visit these places:
Where to eat
I can safely say that Bill’s passes the London test because last year a branch opened in Covent Garden. Naturally, being part of a chain (albeit a small one) makes it about 15 per cent less good, but the Lewes outpost is the original and, yes, the best. Everyone I bring here (and I do bring everyone here) says it reminds them of a Californian market, with shiny produce displayed everywhere and a generally wholesome vibe.
Stylish café where everything, from the table you sit at to the antlers on the walls, is for sale. Most of it’s in that designer-y French-brocante style, where everything’s a thousand shades of grey. Swing by at the end of the day, when the artisanal bread is going cheap.
Tucked away in Pastorale Antiques is this quirky little café, serving home-made soups, stews and spectacular salads. It’s a bit like Ottolenghi, if Ottolenghi was charmingly homespun and about a third of the price. I love Bill’s and Le Magasin, but prefer this place.
Where to drink
I’d probably frequent this pub more if it wasn’t at the top of a massive hill. It’s nice. The interior has been Farrow and Balled, but not too annoyingly, and the lunches are excellent.
There’s something about the atmosphere of this pub everyone seems to like (they’re not funny about kids or dogs, either.) Incidentally, it takes its name from the UK’s biggest avalanche, which killed eight people on this spot in 1836. Which I thought was kind of tasteless, but there you go.
If you want to check out the local countryside, go to Firle, which is so Sunday-night ITV drama it’s regularly used as a film location. The Ram is the village pub, and very smart it is too.
Where to shop
Everyone in Lewes (well, me and my Mum) is slightly obsessed with Wickle, a mini department store stocking expertly chosen clothes, homewares and gifts. It’s not a big shop, but every corner is piled high with stuff, which means you can spend ages rummaging (and I do). It’s very family friendly, with Brio for the kids to play with and a teashop (lots of shops here serve coffee and cakes – hell, even the organic paint shop doubles as a cafe.)
Lewes Antiques Centre
Lewes is full of antiques shops and naturally there’s an element of luck to what you find, but this one, set on four floors and housing different concessions, is my favourite. I bought some coat hooks here for about £20 – similar ones in Anthropologie will set you back 68 quid.
From the outside, this place looks like a tweedy gentleman’s outfitters, but it’s all done with a wink, The Chap magazine-style. The women’s shop is further up the hill and stocks, among other things, Margaret Howell and Johnstons cashmere.
Gift and homewares shop again selling pretty things in tasteful shades of grey and taupe. The clothes upstairs are worth a look, and include By Malene Birger, Citizens of Humanity jeans and those H by Hudson boots, which look more expensive than they really are.
This looks like one of those slightly twee rural shopping malls, the kind that houses lots of crafty boutiques selling hand-crafted pottery and silver jewellery. It is that, sort of, but downstairs is a properly good bookshop and an excellent vintage shop (check out the cashmere.) And there’s something nicely straightforward about their advertising:
The café’s nice, too.
How sweet is this children’s bookshop? Every time I shop at Amazon, I feel guilty.
So myself and I had a vote and came to the conclusion that Christmas in the country is nicer than its urban equivalent. Not that London Christmases aren’t great and all (I missed outdoor ice-skating, the South Bank’s German market and the all-out, end-of-days boozing, but managed to fit in a Christmas show – Matilda, which is ace, and no you don’t need a kid to drag along.)
But Christmas in the countryside was something else altogether – dog-walking across fields crunchy with frost, attending the crib service at the village church (faith not required), cosying up by the log fire…
Actually, no: let me shatter that myth. Log fires are the worst form of heating I’ve ever come across. The only way you’ll get warm from a log fire is by roasting on it, like a pig. The rest of the time you’re standing in front of it, arms outstretched, alternately blowing on your palms and wondering why the hell it’s gone out again.
Over New Year we went to Hampshire (leaving the countryside to go to the countryside feels like a massive exercise in pointlessness, but there you go. Some people swear each English county has its own identity; I say visit one and you’ve got the idea.) But in Hampshire we came across the Holy Grail. A country house that was actually warm. All the time. Even at night.
The secret was the Aga, a country cliché up there with black Labs, SUVs and Emma Bridgewater crockery. They might cost upwards of five grand and use as much energy in a week as a standard oven does in nine months, but as the temperature plummets and wind howls, all I can say is that clichés are clichés for a reason.
But back to Christmas (this post really is all over the place. What can I say? I’m tired.) Check out how one of my presents came wrapped. Look! Special folds! I was wildly impressed.
I had a camera for Christmas, so expect the photography round these parts to get a lot more sophisticated. Oh, yes. No more crappy iPhone shots for me. Because I’ve got a shiny new Olympus. I’m desperate to learn how to use it properly, but can’t…face…reading…instruction manual…
Anyway, this one could have done with more flash, methinks.
‘So? How is it?’ your city friends will ask about your countryside move. Here most people who’ve moved out make the mistake of sounding unrelentingly positive. ‘Yeah! Great. We love it. It’s weird – we don’t miss London at all,’
they’ll say, launching into some spraff about how lucky they are to have the best of both worlds, because they can visit London all the time yet still escape the grind, blah blah.
No one hears that, of course. What they hear is an unconvincing exercise in self-justification. Because moving out of London is never straightforwardly brilliant, no matter how fond you are of fields and WI bake sales. Anyone who’s spent more than a month in the capital will move to a small town and balk at the twee shops selling costumed teddy bears and pervading hordes of old people, regardless of how much they enjoy the space and tight-knit community feel.
Because in Britain you can’t have the best of both worlds – the rural views combined with top-flight museums and kick-ass sushi restaurants. In parts of America you can (such as LA and the Hamptons), but here everything’s a trade-off. You’re allowed your world-class cultural stuff, but only if you take the crowds, pollution, traffic, etc. Alternatively you can have the big house, pretty scenery and quiet, but you’d better like staying in.
Not that I was going out as much in London, mind you. That’s the trouble: once you have a kid, you don’t see the glitzy, ES-party-pages face of the city so much as the waiting-at-a-windswept-bus-stop-outside-Chicken-Cottage side. To get more space, you find yourself living in steadily crappier areas until one day you’re in Cockfosters wondering why the hell you bother.
At least here there are no bus stops involved, since you can drive everywhere (which is brilliant, I don’t care how fashionable it is to protest otherwise). And my son gets to go to a picture-book village pre-school and roam acres of woodland. People round here boast (rather nauseatingly) that the kids are free-range. But that’s not without peril, either. You can, after all, be too sheltered. I don’t want him to become the kid who fears crowds and cries if he sees a black person.
So when my city friends ask how it is here, I always answer with a qualified, ‘It’s fine, but…’ Making them wish they’d never bloody asked.