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The Beautiful Creations of Rare Radish

That title may cause you to do a double-take? A Rare Radish? Beautiful Creations? What’s it all mean? Let me explain. The best designers and creators of soft furnishings, fabrics, cards, ceramics, and other creative items are, in my humble opinion, small independents. Not large art or fashion houses that buy in and “re-corporate” designers, but those genuine small craft workshops with just one or two people, who put their heart and soul into their creative creations, giving you something of exclusive beauty. Rare Radish is such a company.
Artist and designer Jo Allen is Rare Radish. She creates the most amazing digitally printed cushions, greeting cards and Perspex artwork. She says she will soon be adding bone china mugs to her mix of original work. How did it all begin for her? After licensing her art for several years she decided to launch her own brand. But Rare Radish? Really? How did that come about?
Jo says:
‘The name Rare Radish comes from the fact that radishes look pretty and pink but when you take a bite they are hot and peppery. I like using this element of surprise in my work. Rare are the treasures which have often been long forgotten and recently discovered.’
So how does Jo combine attractiveness and surprise? Her work displays nostalgia and some vintage themes, but is also cutting edge. She herself describes her work as ‘a mixture of Downton Abbey, Gothic and Steampunk all rolled in to one.’!
Where did such an interesting combination of influences come from? The answer was treasure hunting as a child. Jo says:
‘My mother and father had a love of antiques and I grew up in a house filled with quirky, interesting objects from all different eras, all with a story to tell. I love the nostalgia and romance of the past. When I find an object, I love to imagine the person that owned it and where it has been all these years.’
This means that the inspiration for each design comes from one such treasure, be it a Victorian photo in a frame, an Edwardian key, or some art deco knick-knack. For example one of her designs is on a coffee mug- a child on a beach writing a postcard following treasure hunting along the shore. The design was influenced by an old Victorian postcard that she came across in Bournemouth (South England).
Like many writers and some artists, Jo carries with her a small notebook to jot down words and ideas that blossom up in her mind from seeing things on her travels.
Recently she discovered a long forgotten leather suitcase full of treasures she’d collected during her childhood – an art deco pen, a gramophone needle tin and a 1930s dance card to name but a few. As you can imagine this fired up a geyser of creative juices that will no doubt soon be used to weave new stories and new items for us to peruse and possibly buy. You’re not just buying a cushion or a mug, you’re buying into a mini glimpse into someone’s childhood explorations as re-modelled by their adult imagination.

Favourite Finds from Etsy : Ceramics

First up- do you know what Etsy is? Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies. It also provides unique factory-manufactured items under Etsy’s new guidelines, which were released in October 2013. These items cover a wide range, including art, photography, clothing, jewellery, food, bath and beauty products, quilts, knick-knacks, toys, and ceramics. The site was launched on June 18, 2005 and by the end of 2013, had 30 million users registered on its website.
Part of the joy of navigating the Etsy site is that you very quickly depart from the beaten path and discover all sorts of creators of exclusive items. My particular bag is ceramics. From practical vases and pots to more intricate purely artistic affairs, I just love a well-crafted unique ceramic. Here are just a sprinkling of great sites and great ceramics I found on my last foray into Etsy-land. (By the way it’s called Etsy after an expression in the Italian language; but don’t ask me for any more information that that!)
1. Vitrified Studio
This is my favourite (just) in ceramics-world. Vitrified Studio is based in Portland, Oregon and is run by Shelley who makes all the products by hand in her small home-based studio at the bottom of her garden. You can’t get more cottage industry than that! Each piece found in her Etsy shop window is unique and made only using her hands, a few simple tools and of course the pottery wheel. The designs and ideas are more than clever- you can see that they have been crafted with love and affection. Knowing that just a pair of hands has been the chief moulder of the piece makes each one more treasured.
2. Pigeon Toe Ceramics
Again, this small company produce remarkable pieces that will continue to delight you and your friends and family. They have an interesting philosophy that argues life is too short to have anything but the best and the most beautiful around you. Their pieces would become part of your life narrative and become and heirloom as well as a companion for life. A bit to over-the-top? Perhaps. But their ceramics speak for themselves.
3. mbartstudios
This is a small family business run by Mary and Cory. When you look at their creations you are immediately struck by the simple beauty (or the beautiful simplicity!) of their pieces. Each piece is unique and never-to-be-repeated. The only difficulty is in choosing between the items displayed. They are all so “must-have”- and few people have an unlimited budget…
4. One and Many
One and many was established by Ya’ara Landau Katz, an Israeli industrial designer with a passion for ceramics. The pieces are difficult to describe but well worth a visit via Etsy.
5. Urban Cartel
We go down under for our next producer of fine ceramics. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Urban Cartel was founded in early 2011 by Craig Pearce who has a background in Visual Arts (B.A. Ceramic Design) and, of all things, hospitality management. Odd bedfellows? Perhaps, but combining these two strengths resulted in the production of absolutely delightful handmade porcelain tableware items. Craig majors on clean lines & functional design. The pieces are also practical. They are meant to be used not just to gather dust on a shelf- consequently all the ceramics are dishwasher, microwave and food safe. Take a look at the great cloud dishes here!
So I hope this little descriptive piece has whetted your appetite to explore the highways and byways of Etsy… But be warned, you may not re-surface for ours, and are likely to be a little light in the wallet department afterwards. But then again you’ll have some ceramics to treasure forever!

The Five Best Oven Buys for Big, Busy Families

You have a large-ish family that live at home? You like cooking (or have to like it)? Are you considering upgrading to a better oven? If so, then read on, because here we have a quick run through the five cookers one of which is likely to meet your individual needs.
1. The Cuisinemaster 100.
This is a range cooker that is sleek, modern-looking, robust, and a pleasure to cook on. Oh, and it yields superb results. Range cookers don’t need to be big bulky ugly things that take up a complete kitchen wall! This range cooker will suit people who regularly cook for four or more, big families, and those who like to cook in bulk and freeze. It has two large ovens, and one low- capacity, energy efficient oven for smaller dishes and plate warming. It has a five burner gas hob plus an integrated griddle pan- essentially for fish and steaks. It comes in widths of 100 or 110cm and sells for just over a grand (£1000). Not bad at all for a quality range cooker.
2. AGA
An AGA is also a range, but it operates on an “on-all-the-time” basis. Once you’ve fired up an AGA, you leave it on all the time – it becomes the warm heart of your kitchen and your home. It’s cosy, re-assuring, and you can cook for anyone, anytime. It really suits the larger family with people coming and going all the time, and those who love traditional cooking. They come with 2-5 ovens and in a variety of colours. The big plus- being on all the time is also a drawback. Whilst you never have to wait for the ovens to warm up, and you always have a nice warmth in the kitchen, they can be expensive in terms of fuel consumption. However AGA has addressed this to some extent by introducing heat controls and even gas and electric hob rings to some models. They don’t come cheap. Anything up to £10,000 for a top of the range model. But once you’ve experienced one, many say you’ll never want to cook on anything else!
3. Neff Series 3 Built-in Double Oven
Quite simply this is one of the best and most popular electric double ovens on the market. It combines flexibility (two ovens) with being economical in terms of space. Consequently it’s a great choice for a small kitchen. It features a huge capacity of oven space for its relatively small size, and has precise temperature controls. The downside is that it doesn’t have a hob. So you’ll have to buy that separately. It costs around £950
4. Samsung Dual Cook Single Oven
The big selling point for this oven is that you can either use it as one big oven (eg for a Sunday roast) or you can split the oven in two using a special shelf, effectively creating two ovens, each with variable temperature controls – so you cook your dinner and perhaps bake biscuits at the same time. It’s also a self-clean oven which is a great boon. It costs a little over £500. The only downside is if you have 6 people come to dinner, you may struggle a bit to get everything done at the same time.
5. John Lewis Steam Oven
This oven offers all the regular features of an oven such as a fan oven setting and grill, plus a really good steam function. This oven has a massive 74L capacity and so can cook for the whole plus-size family- brilliant at Christmas. It costs around £800. Those (like me) who are into roast dinners and not just on Sundays, can either use the slow cook steam function to get meat cooked to a mouth-watering treat, or use the combination to get moist meat but with that beautiful crispy skin. You can also use it to defrost or reheat food safely, without getting the dryness or hotspots that some people complain about when using in a microwave. It has a grill, and a fast pre-heat setting too. However it is not self-clean; the steam oven needs to be wiped out after every use, to remove the water inside. Also this is a single oven so you cannot use the grill and the oven at the same time.

Leather Sofas: A Classic Piece for any Home

Whether you call it a sofa or a settee, there’s some things you probably agree on:
1. It should be comfortable.
2. It should look good.
3. You’ll want it sited in your living room- probably facing the television screen, so you can relax on it and be entertained.
4. It should be leather.
“What?!!” I hear you say. Well, yes, a sofa can be made from all manner of materials, such as cloth and plastic (faux leather) but if you want your sofa to look timeless, classic, stylish, and inviting to the eye and the posterior, go hell for leather!
Sofas can come in a variety of shapes and sizes: Two seaters, L-Shaped, Futons, with foot-rests attached chez lounges and with pull-out beds for visitors. But with a leather covering, the sofa will be warm in winter, cool in summer, and be easy to clean with just a wipe. Spillages can be easily soaked away with a cloth and with a leather spray the sheen of your sofa can be quickly and easily maintained.
There is a company that specialises in leather sofas; sofa.com. They offer a range of hand-crafted leather sofas. Such sofas are also readily available from many shops and online retailers. The colours can be traditional such as earth-brown, maroon, burgundy or ever-popular black. But these days they can also come in more vibrant colours such a bright reds and azure blues. White is also a popular colour for leather sofas, but be careful because pet hairs can be a problem, and unless quickly soaked away, could be susceptible to staining from food and drink such as red wine or Indian take aways.
However a leather sofa can stand up to levels of use that many cloth and fibre sofas cannot, and with proper care and treatment can last for decades. One of the concerns that some people have is that the sofa will lose its pristine day-of-delivery look over time. However one of the great things about a leather sofa is that it is like a living friend in your sitting room. It matures with age. Folds, wrinkles and creases merely add to its character. Rather like old Levi jeans change hands second-hand for more than they cost new, the charm and beauty of a “lived-in” sofa just has to be recognised and appreciated. So much so that a sofa.com high-quality leather sofa is likely to become a central focus and a conversation piece in any home. It is more than a piece of furniture, it is a friend!
Once you have selected your centre-piece sofa, you can then decide if you want matching arm chairs, poufs, recliners and cushions. Depending on the size of your living room, you may want to compliment your sofa by flanking it with armchairs. It is also important to make sure that your sofa doesn’t get lost among other items of furniture in your room. Don’t crowd it out by having it too close to dining tables, occasional tables, and welsh-dressers. A sofa needs room to breathe around it to give it that central role and to make people entering the room want to go over and relax and recline in its stylish embrace.