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London's Ice Sculpting Festival

10 January 2014 7:51 PM

By Barbara Chandler (2)

Here's a fun alternative take on London's wintery weather. The London Ice Sculpting Festival opens on Friday 10 January and runs until Sunday 12 January. It's one of the capital's favourite free art events, with teams from around the globe in an action-packed competition in Wood Wharf beneath the soaring towers at Canary Wharf in East London, which is also home to 300 shops, bars and restaurants.



Each country sends a two-man team wielding chainsaws and chisels to create glistening art from a single block of ice. Themes are "river life" and "fabulous fashion". A "freestyle" session lets competitors sculpt at will. You can even join in yourself at "masterclasses" every day. A Winter Food Market adds to the fun.

For more details visit
and follow @LondonISF on Twitter.

Seasons greetings from London's shops

24 December 2013 11:35 AM

By Barbara Chandler

London's most iconic shops and quirky boutiques are famous for their festive window displays. Here are some of the capital's most eye-catching Christmas messages...


Selfridges windows have a gingerbread theme - the corner window with a complete landscape of fairytale buildings is drawing big crowds sometimes three or four deep.



Jonathan Adler in South Kensington is typically ironic.


Trafalgar square

The Trafalgar Square tree is an annual gift from Norway -  but the new LED lights are very white and linear compared to the ones we used to have.



(Above left) Christmas is all wrapped in Covent Garden; (right) Miniatures in Fortnum and Mason's windows on Piccadilly are sheer magic.


Peter jones featherduster

At John Lewis and Peter Jones, the windows are filled with animals made from all manner of goods from the store – even feather dusters.



Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road: sometimes the simplest message is the most effective.


Pictures by

I’m @sunnyholt on twitter - follow me for up-to-date design news!
See more design pictures at

Restoring furniture with Out of the Dark

29 November 2013 4:29 PM

By Barbara Chandler

On a wintery Saturday afternoon, I went to visit Out of the Dark (, an inspirational charity in High Wycombe that is using design and craft to help disadvantaged young people turn their lives around. I was donating the money I raised for them selling photographs from my September Joy of Design photography show. We had collected enough to buy two brand new electric sanders, an extraction system, and a beautiful set of chisels, all of which I duly “christened” on my visit. I felt so proud!


Out of the Dark was founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife Jay and Jade Blades, who met at university. The professional and enthusiastic couple once confided to me that their early lives were full of "rebellion and hardship" and so thirteen years ago, they founded youth charity Sweet Dreams, which was later the launch-pad of Out of the Dark.

Out of the Dark's home, High Wycombe, is an area famous for furniture making, and the historic home of brands such as Ercol, Parker Knoll and G-Plan. Sadly, many factories have closed down or taken production overseas.

Thankfully for Out of the Dark there's still plenty of old furniture around, which the charity rescues. With the help of expert volunteers the charity teaches young people the skills needed to restore and sell old furniture, and all profits from the sales are ploughed back into the charity.

They’ve been very successfully fulfilling major projects to furnish complete reception areas and cafes at trade shows, plus small selling shows at prestigious shops like Heal’s.


Along the way, the youngsters – with an average age of 15 - learn basic woodworking, staining, polishing, painting, varnishing, re-covering, re-caning and more. They are now offering restoration services to a growing clientele.

Or to put it more trendily, they are up-cycling mid-century modern pieces, which range from a single chair or shelving unit to a large table or wardrobe. Furniture, possibly destined for landfill, is not only restored but also re-vamped with coloured doors, perhaps, or a contrasting top, or flamboyant new handles.


I was so pleased to meet some of the young people involved. They are completely committed to learning and doing their work. Yassir showed me round, and Luke and Cameron were removing the old finish from wooden chairs. Travis was painting, and Emily was being taught upholstery by a pro mentor. In the office, Zach was sorting out the computer. Trainees get a new focus to their lives, and acquire expertise that may later help them gain employment. Mentors have included a local 91-year-old local teaching classes on chair caning and an 80-year-old running a French polishing workshop.

Pictures by

I’m @sunnyholt on twitter - follow me for up-to-date design news!
See more design pictures at

Dolls houses designed by the world's leading architects

08 November 2013 2:10 PM

By Emma Gaffney

Twenty unique dolls’ houses, designed and built by some of the world’s best architects and designers, such as Zaha Hadid, FAT and dRMM, will be auctioned at Bonhams’ new showroom in London on Monday November 11 after a public exhibition on November 10, 11am-3pm.

The project, curated by Cathedral Group in aid of the disabled children's charity KIDS, was inspired by the dolls’ house that Edwin Lutyens designed for The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1922 – using a very traditional children’s toy to display the very best of modern architecture, craftsmanship, art and interior design.

We take a look at some of the unique doll house designs.

To see all the dolls houses and to make a bid, visit


Make Architects




Coffey Architecture




Zaha Hadid Architects

To see all the dolls houses and to make a bid, visit

Autumn/winter 2013 interiors trends at Laura Ashley

By Emma Gaffney

The clean and simple Scandinavian style has been inhabiting more and more homes in recent seasons, but Laura Ashley are welcoming back all things feminine and coral in their current autumn/winter 2013 range.


Velvet, tactile upholstery and rose gold mirrored furniture are used to create a luxe feel to the collection, which features the Scalcott chair (above right), £800, and the Gladioli Coral Wallpaper (above right), £38.00 per roll.


This season is the first time Laura Ashely have featured animal prints on wallpaper and fabrics. The Zebra-inspired Aberdare Wallpaper is £38 a roll (fabric also available for £45 a meter).


For those who want a less feminine style then the eclectic and retro inspired Leaf range features botanical motifs, including the Wykeham Cushion, £48; and Wykeham Olive fabric (used for the curtains pictured).

For more on the latest Laura Ashley homeware range, visit

The history of Paddington

16 October 2013 11:11 AM

By Melanie Backe-Hansen

When first hearing the name Paddington most people will automatically think of trains, and although the history of this part of central London has been heavily influenced by the railway, prior to the 1830s it was still largely open fields and meadows.  The grand terraces and garden squares that sprung-up across Paddington soon became highly sought-after and famous names that have lived in the area have included Winston Churchill, William Makepeace Thackeray, and more recently, former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Padda’s Farm and the Tyburn Tree

Paddington is situated within a triangular area created by Bayswater Road to the south, Edgeware Road to the east, and the railway station and canal to the north west. The name ‘Paddington’ is believed to have originated from the Saxon name of ‘Padda’s Tun’ or ‘Padda’s Farm’. For much of its early history it remained as fields and countryside on the outskirts of London.

The most notorious connection in the history of the area was the ‘Tyburn Tree’ – the three-legged gallows that formerly stood at the junction of Bayswater and Edgeware Roads, at today’s Marble Arch. The Tyburn gallows were the main place of execution in London from the 14th century until 1783, although executions were taking place here from as early as the 1100s. The executions were a major attraction, drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands. In 1724, 200,000 people came to watch the hanging of infamous highwayman ‘Gentleman Jack’ Shepherd.


Paddington Station

Grand Junction Canal and God’s Wonderful Railway
The 19th century saw a revolution in Paddington, as it transformed from fields to rows of terraced houses and garden squares. The first major development was the Grand Junction Canal basin, which officially opened in July 1801, when the population of Paddington was just over 4,500. The success of the canal basin meant Paddington was the ideal location for the railway terminus of the new Great Western Railway, which opened in 1838. The ease of transporting goods, via road into central London, and via canal and railway to other parts of the country, made Paddington an instant success.

The grand terminus of the Great Western Railway – nicknamed ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ – was by renowned Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, along with architect Matthew Digby Wyatt. It officially opened in 1854 to great acclaim, and still today it is difficult not to be wowed by the wide spans of wrought iron that stretch across the platforms. The earlier 1838 station buildings were converted into the goods depot.

Paddington station entered a new phase later in the 19th century with the building of the world’s first underground railway. The first station was ‘Paddington Bishops Road’ (on the northern side) and opened in 1863 as part of the new Metropolitan Railway. The Praed Street station opened in 1868 as part of an extension line to South Kensington.



Connaught Square

The Paddington Estate – ‘city of palaces north of the park’
Meanwhile, building development in the surrounding area was moving on swiftly. Sections around the canal and railway were developed by the Grand Junction Canal Company, as well as the Grand Junction Waterworks Company, including Praed Street and South Wharf Road, constructed during the 1820s. The main thoroughfare, Sussex Gardens, stretching from Edgeware Road to Bayswater, was first named Grand Junction Street. This was at the centre of the grand development laid out by Samuel Pepys Cockerell for the Bishop of London, who held the majority of the land south of Paddington station. Today, this area still belongs to the Church Commissioners Estate, also known as The Paddington Estate.

The development of the Paddington Estate was a large-scale building project with long avenues of terraced houses and garden squares. This included Connaught Square in the south east corner, as well as Hyde Park Square and Gloucester Square, and terraces stretching towards the north and west. Cockerell, great great nephew of diarist Samuel Pepys, started the work on the estate, but died a short time later, in 1827, and the project was taken up by George Gutch. Much of the original plan was retained, although Gutch did make some changes, including building larger houses, along with a heavier use of stucco – the plaster-like material on the façade that gives the impression of stone. By the middle of the 19th century Paddington had been completely transformed with new streets and houses. The large terraced houses in close proximity to Hyde Park were instantly popular and the area was said to be equally as fashionable as Belgravia. In 1884 author William J. Loftie wrote that the area ‘was the city of palaces north of the park’.

However, towards the end of the 19th century many of the houses began to be converted into hotels, boarding houses and apartments as the railway and underground stations were increasingly utilised. This approach to conversion continued into the 20th century, in particular a growing number of large apartment buildings replaced Victorian terraces along Edgeware Road. However, it was the redevelopment after the Second World War that created the biggest change in housing on the estate. Large scale redevelopment began in 1957 with the demolition of streets of Victorian houses to be replaced with apartment buildings. In Cambridge and Oxford Squares terraced houses were replaced with 930 flats and 68 houses, along with shops and offices, and in 1966 the Water Gardens were completed in Norfolk Crescent.

Discover more about living in the London district of Paddington in our property area guide

Melanie’s second book, Historic Streets and Squares: The Secrets on Your Doorstep is publishing in November 2013.  Her first book House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door was published in 2011.

Melanie is available for private commissions and can be contacted via her website: or you can follow her on twitter @HouseHistorian.

Gardening inspiration from Cape Town

04 October 2013 12:08 PM

By Pattie Barron

When it comes to being creative with plants, Cape Town definitely has the edge, as can be seen from a recent trip I made there. The pictures speak for themselves….

If humans can have hair follicle transplants, why can't animals have grass follicle transplants? UK garden merch companies, please copy - but maybe on a smaller scale


It's a jungle up there! Plants living the high life in a hip cafeteria at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock


For containers, as you might expect, droughtproof plants rule - especially architectural plants...and as agaves are two a penny, it's more fun to fake them


Why can't our garden centres and stores look more like this? (left) In Continuum, a great store for garden merchandise at The Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock, the central feature of the shop is a huge wirework bell, smothered in statice, the everlasting flower....a neat idea to copy on a smaller scale (right)


First, paint your pot: primitive prints make outsize pots special but would work equally well on smaller containers, too. Time to get out the emulsion paints and a stash of terracotta!

Joy of Design: an exhibition by Barbara Chandler

14 September 2013 3:27 PM


An exhibition of 68 design portraits and reportage by Barbara Chandler. 
The Gallery, designjunction, 19-22 September, The Old Post Office Sorting Office, 21-31 New Oxford Street, WC1A 1BA;

By Kristy Gray

Some of Britain's most celebrated designers will find themselves - and not their creations - in the spotlight at this year's London Design Festival as expert design writer and photographer Barbara Chandler launches an exhibition of design portraits.

Photography show Joy of Design (19-22 September) will be one of the many installations at designjunction, one of the four key shows of the nine-day festival. The 68-portrait collection includes photographs (posed and unposed) of British and international designers and industry personalities, with accompanying reportage, featuring Sir Paul Smith, Sir Terence Conran, Alessandro Mendini, Thomas Heatherwick, Ross Lovegrove, Ron Arad and Sir Kenneth Grange.

Many of the designers have been captured by Barbara over the past 10 years or more, and are pictured on the move, picking up awards, in heated discussions, showing off their work at shows or doing presentations.

One of Barbara's favourite images shows Thomas Heatherwick with Elizabeth Tomalin, the grandmother who inspired his work, shortly after he was awarded the London Design Medal in 2010

“My show celebrates the huge energy, enthusiasm, commitment and creativity of our best designers, not only from the UK but also internationally,“ says Barbara.

Huge focal points within the exhibition will be 5ft-high images of octogenarians Sir Terence Conran and Alessandro Mendini, and a 5ft-wide image of Sir John Sorrell. Other international designers featured include Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders and Gaetano Pesce.

The photographs, a mix of colour and black-and-white, show designers passionately involved, happy and engaged in their work, expressing their personalities, not posed in a studio but usually in some way "on the job."

Barbara says: “I often had only a few moments with a designer usually in very poor lighting conditions, and the challenge was to make the very most of every opportunity, whether at a festival, design event, trade show, or during a presentation. As it happens, many pictures are very natural with smiles or spontaneous expressions of delight."

Philippe Starck
"Philippe Starck had helicoptered in to pick up a lunchtime Designer of the Year Award 2009 at Lords cricket ground. He arrived with the coffee, made a charismatic speech, fooled around, scooped up his trophy, and left. I was in pursuit. A little mystified, he courteously posed outside. Starck is “the most famous designer ever”, and certainly the one that everyone seems to know. His projects/products/clients are legion, but it’s the triffid-like lemon squeezer, transparent Louis chair and gun lights that stick in my mind," says Barbara.

(Above left) Sir Paul Smith and (right) Sir Terence Conran
Says Barbara: "Sir Paul Smith took digital photographs of summer flowers to turn into a flamboyant curtain for the “British Design Embassy” in Milan during April 2009. He gave a talk to the international press, and posed for this photograph, which I sent to him later. I received a touching hand-written postcard in reply." (Right) A huge focal point at the exhibition will be a 5ft-high photograph of Sir Terence Conran


1 Ross Lovegrove%2c London 2012 (1)
Ross Lovegrove, London 2012. Welsh-born London designer who shapes ground-breaking technology into flowing forms, such as this Solar Tree street lighting (
Barbara says: "This was on show at Clerkewell design week in 2012. Ross is always friendly and approachable and we have met several times at weekends, obsessively trawling design events. He is ferociously into technology, and his eye for a curve is unequalled - "call me Captain Organic," he says..."


19 Snowden Flood%2c London 2012
Snowden Flood, London 2012. Artist-designer dispatches these charming tree glasses, plus ceramics and more, from a studio by the river (
"I was asked by Dieneke Ferguson of Hidden Art to photograph a London designer for a photography exhibition called Vision for London at Europe House. The picture needed to reflect a London design enterprise in any way the photographer thought fit. I knew Snowden did exquisite work adjacent to a stunning view. We were thrilled that the photograph was one selected from many for exhibition, and I believe it will also be shown at City Hall in due course," says Barbara


57  Barbara Hulanicki & James Dyson%2c London 2010
Barbara Hulanicki & Sir James Dyson, London 2010. Biba fashion diva gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Sir James Dyson at the Homes & Gardens Design Awards at the V&A. (;
Barbara says: "I was one of the first girls wearing Biba in the 60s, seeking her out in her first hidden Kensington boutique and buying a set of skirt, trousers, and wickedly long jacket in pin-stripes for £13. Later, I interviewed her when she took over Derry & Toms and turned it into a Biba wonderland. Sadly I did not keep the clothes, but I still have the perfume bottles. Her style is now attracting a whole new generation, with wallpapers for Graham & Brown, and fashion collections. Sir James says I was the first person ever to write about him - he came to my garden from the RCA bearing his revolutionary Ballbarrow. He actually won three Awards on the night of the photograph - so by the time we got to Lifetime, he was a bit punch drunk, which is reflected in the picture..."

Barbara Chandler has been writing about design for more than 35 years, and as a photographer has also sold her work worldwide. Her Love London show of framed photographs sold out in Habitat in 2008. For more information on the subsequent book, Love London, visit

Photographs will be sold in aid of Out of the Dark (, with the aim to raise enough money for an industrial sander. Photographs have been handprinted by Snappy Snaps of Chiswick (


The history of the City of London: layers of history that inspire, intrigue and fascinate

27 August 2013 5:07 PM

By Melanie Backe-Hansen

The City of London is one of, if not the, most historic areas in the country. It is steeped in traditions and historic connections dating back centuries, along with evidence of thousands of years of history, with Roman remains sitting side by side with medieval laneways and 21st-century landmarks. It is also often referred to as the ‘Square Mile’ as it encompasses an area of 677 acres, a little over a square mile. Today, when someone mentions the ‘City’ it is often in reference to business and banking, and whilst this is an essential element, the history of the Square Mile is much more than office blocks and workers in suits.

The Agas Map of London c.1570-1605 shows the City before the Great Fire and the surrounding area largely open land

The ‘City of London’ began with Roman Londinium, believed to have been established in around 50AD when Britain was ruled by Aulus Plautius, under Emperor Claudius. Londinium was attacked by Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe, in 60 AD, and was almost entirely destroyed in a fire in 125, but it was rebuilt and thrived under Roman rule. The city gates and city wall, encompassing an area of 330 acres, were first constructed in around the year 200. Remains of the wall are still found in sections of the City today and many of the familiar City names originate from this period, including Aldgate, Ludgate, Newgate, and Bishopsgate.

Mel_corp Coat of Arms of the City of London Corporation

The City and The Corporation
After the Romans left Britain in the 5th-century it was occupied by the Saxons, and in 604 St Ethelbert, King of Kent, founded the first St Paul’s Cathedral. When William the Conqueror took the throne in 1066 a number of significant events took place. In 1067, he granted a charter to the City of London, to the rights to the freedoms and independence enjoyed by the citizens under Edward the Confessor, and which was the foundation of many of the privileges given to the City today. William also constructed the Tower of London, just outside the city walls, with the White Tower completed in 1078. Later, in around 1130, Henry I granted the City the right to appoint their own sheriff, and by 1215 King John allowed for citizens to elect their own mayor. It was these foundations that established what we know today as the City of London Corporation, thought to be the oldest continuously elected local government body. The City of London Corporation is the separate governing body for the City of London, with 25 wards and run by the Lord Mayor (not the Mayor of London), with sheriffs and aldermen.


The Bank of England was established in 1694. Image: Graham Hussey

The centre of trade
It was also during the medieval period that the City became firmly established as the centre for trade and business in Britain – and the world. The first of the Craft Guilds, or Livery Companies, The Weavers’ Company, was established in 1155. Others established during the medieval period, included The Worshipful Company of Bakers, The Brewers’ Company, and The Salters’ Company. By 1515 there were 48 Livery Companies, and it was at this time that an order of precedence was established, with the top 12 known as the ‘Great Twelve’. Today, there are 108 Livery Companies.


The City now features some of London's architectural highlights, incuding the Lloyds Building and the Gherkin. Image: Graham Hussey

Expansion and turmoil
The City continued as a thriving hub for business and trade into the 16th- and 17th-centuries. The Royal Exchange was completed in 1571 as a meeting place for merchants, and at the same time many trading companies were established, including the famous, Honourable East India Trading Company, founded in 1600. It was during this time the City of London spread its influence beyond Britain to the world, with the expansion of the empire and new trade routes providing an increasing number of business opportunities. However, the 1600s are also well-known as a period of tragedy and turmoil, with the Civil War during the 1640s; the Great Plague in 1665; and the Great Fire of London in 1666. Despite these devastating events, the City not only survived, but rose to acquire greater importance, power, and influence. 

It was also at this time that the world-renowned insurance business was established. The famous Lloyd’s of London insurance market originated from Edward Lloyd’s coffee house, opened in the 1680s, where maritime traders and ship owners would congregate to conduct business. The Great Fire also inspired the first fire insurance companies, with the first established by entrepreneur and builder, Nicholas Barbon in 1680. The late 17th century also saw the foundation of one of the country’s greatest institutions - The Bank of England – established in 1694.


The City is home to the great landmark St Paul's Cathedral. Image: Graham Hussey

Layers of history
The following centuries saw the City of London continue to thrive. However, these developments saw a change in the demographics of the City. From the Roman times, it had been as much a residential area, but by the 19th-century the residential population began to decrease and by the 20th-century it had dwindled even further. In 2011 the residential population of the City was around 7,000 (largely those living in the post-war Barbican Estate), while the working population commuting into the City was over 300,000.

Today, the City of London is a fascinating mix of thousands of years of history, from Roman remains still being uncovered, along with the narrow medieval lanes and old streets, and landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Mansion House, and the Guildhall. This is contrasted with many 20th and 21st century architectural highlights, including the Lloyds Building; 30 St Mary Axe - ‘the Gherkin’; and a number of new buildings, including 20 Fenchurch Street - ‘the Walkie-Talkie’. The City has so many layers of history that inspire, intrigue and fascinate, which all combine to make up the Square Mile.

Melanie is an historian specialising in the history of houses and streets throughout the UK and regularly provides expert commentary on the history of houses at events and to the media.

Melanie’s second book, Historic Streets and Squares: The Secrets on Your Doorstep is publishing in November 2013.  Her first book House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door was published in 2011.

Melanie is available for private commissions and can be contacted via her website: or you can follow her on twitter @HouseHistorian.

Go for gold afternoon tea at 51 Buckingham Gate

07 August 2013 6:25 PM

By Amira Hashish

51 Bucks Gate 2

For a luxurious afternoon tea experience, visit 51 Buckingham Gate. This elegant hotel, nestled in a quiet street in St James's, minutes from Buckingham Palace, recently launched a '24-Karat Gold Afternoon Tea' that is fit for a queen.

51 Buck Gate 1Tea-takers are treated to a half bottle of Luxor Pure Gold Brut Champagne, which includes flakes of 24-karat gold and is one of the world’s most prestigious sparkling wines.  Produced in the Champagne region, Luxor was created by founder Jean-Christophe Rousseau and looks as decadent as it sounds. Golden flakes trickle through the bottle or drift gently to the bottom of a flute.

Executive Chef Vikas Milhoutra uses edible gold as an ingredient for his twist on traditional afternoon tea. Sweet treats such as Gold Leaf Jelly, White Chocolate Delight with Gold Leaf and Strawberry Tart with Gold Flakes are accompanied by a selection of scones and delicate finger sandwiches.

The food is ample and and the service is as impeccable as it is friendly. Tea is usually served in The Library but if the sun is shining, ask for a seat in the picturesque courtyard which is one of London's hidden outdoor gems. A stunning backdrop for a sumptuous afternoon.

£99 for two; booking is required with a 24-hour notice; for reservations e-mail or call 020 7769 7766.