Friday, 30 May 2008


Img from

I was mortified at discovering another major difference between the way Americans do business vs the English. I met a French woman in NYC at the ICFF who had recently moved to the US from Europe, and she'd literally just bought a house with her husband. They were getting the keys from the realtor [aka real estate agent] the following Monday and the builders were scheduled to arrive two hours later to begin work. Two hours! Urgh!

She asked me enthusiastically which kind of counter top I was going to get. I laughed embarrassingly and said "We'd love to have Corian" [cue - French woman smiling enthusiastically] "… but in reality, we'll end up with that new Ikea composite!" [me smiling as if saying ha, what a kidder I am, despite thinking yes, it will be Ikea. Or even glued together ice-cream sticks]. The woman sensed that I was in another (lower) league of d├ęcor and made her excuses to find a drink. Five minutes later I was bemoaning my angst to another New Yorker having spent the most I'd ever blown on a pair of jeans at Bloomingdales. He asked me how much. I said $185. He looked at me and said in all earnestness: "Wow. You can get jeans in New York for under $200?"

Sometimes it's like living on a different planet.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Fonzwulli & mortgages (again)

Saw this furniture at the ICFF. Made by a guy called Fonzwulli - he doesn't have a website (yet) but here's his phone number if you're in the USA and you need some quirky, handmade furniture: Tel 1-845-343-0900. Must admit it was quite humbling to actually talk to someone at a stand who designed and made their own stuff, and who then was right there selling it. I felt bad that my own bedroom storage options are all mass produced items from Ikea or Habitat.

In the news today is the story that house prices have had their largest fall since 1991, 2.5%. Where do I start? If valuers are deliberately down-valuing houses to try and stop people from getting mortgages then yes, their value will be recorded as lower. Down-valuing prevents people from getting mortgages because vendors are unlikely to drop the price to match the valuation (as happened to us with our new property, which came in £45K below the asking price) so unless you have the extra funds to pay the difference between what the bank will loan you and what the vendor wants, you can't buy.

Secondly, 2.5% off a £400,000 home (which is not an unreasonable price for a house in central London) is £10,000. People are reluctant to list their properties because they think that they'll lose £10K, and buyers are sitting tight while believing all this media hype about falling prices, but come on, who the heck actually pays the full price? We got our new house for £15K below the asking price back in October! [NB it's nearly June so you can imagine my frustration] Though after the valuation (see above) I would've liked to have gotten it for much less. And our current flat (which was bought six years ago) cost us £7,000 less than the asking price.

And to all those doom and gloomers who bang on about "negative equity": you'll only lose if you sell your property for less money than you owe on your mortgage, so if you are facing negative equity, don't sell it.

It looks to me that the mortgage industry has perpetuated it's own implosion - by making it difficult for people to get mortgages and buy properties there will be fewer sold. This isn't to say that there aren't homes available to buy (there'll always be someone who gets relocated/divorced/dies/falls on hard times etc) but there are fewer people out there who have the approved funds.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Mortgages and quotes

More lights from the ICFF. And I swear that's another Vernor Panton second from the left.

This week has been full of tiny highs and near misses. Firstly, our current flat's mortgage rate is going to expire. In exactly three days. Three weeks ago our lovely mortgage broker Claudia - who's had the patience of a saint and the determination of a starving rat - started sourcing a new mortgage product for us. (I'm really getting into the financial services jargon).

Two weeks ago she found the "best rate on the market" which was a squeak inducing .89% more than what we're paying now. Cue argument with hubby about why he didn't listen to me two years ago and fix for longer in the first place yada yada.

Last week we had the valuation guy around to measure up our flat so he could make sure the new bank wasn't loaning us a silly amount of money. We were absolutely convinced that it would be a shoe in as friends sold their smaller flat 5 minutes walk from ours last year for £40K more than what we think our flat is actually worth. Oh how wrong we were. There's a "credit crunch" on so all valuations are coming in way below "market rate". Our valuation was 13% below what we thought it was worth, and therefore the new bank was nervous about giving us the loan. Brilliant timing huh? Here we are paying out TWO mortgages in London and they want to quibble about whether we can afford a hike at this point? Ha!

Plan B was to show them comparable sales figures of similar flats sold in the last three months to prove that their valuation was based on fiction. Claudia rang loads of real estate agents to be told that hardly anything's sold in the last three months because of the "credit crunch". Catch 22 anyone?

Yesterday hubby rang our existing bank and by some miracle secured a rate lower than the one the new bank was offering us. So for a set up fee, an application fee and now a high payment next month for being too close to the deadline, we are back in business. It feels like money is evaporating when we haven't actually purchased anything new.

Secondly, we've found another two builders to quote. This could be good in that it stops us being held to ransom by only having one option to pursue, but it could be bad in that one is a friend and I've heard that you should never employ friends. Sod it, we'll employ anyone who can renovate our house this side of Christmas.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Verner Panton light

This light is either a reproduction of the Verner Panton version, or a very good copy. Since it was at the ICFF I'm going to guess it was a reproduction, but you never know. I'm sure someone with a better eye for Verner Panton originals can correct me.

My ex's parents had this lamp hanging in their 1970s house and I've always lusted after it. Even after we broke up I mentioned that if they ever wanted to sell it to let me know. Years later when I heard his parents were separating and selling the family home my second reaction (after "Are you OK?", natch) was 'Are they selling that really cool 60s hanging lamp?'

Apparently they hated it because it hung in an alcove near the door and constantly got tangled up whenever the wind blew. And a couple of the delicate strands had snapped over the years. I guess they must've been nostalgic because they hung onto it and I'm pleased to say that after some time apart they finally got back together. I must find out if this lamp is hanging in their new house...

Thursday, 22 May 2008

House update...

This photo is from the ICFF from a company called Miss Print - excellent retro wallpapers, textiles and lampshades - and I must say I don't even mind the design idea of hanging wallpaper inside these fetching frames. Oh, they're even based in London! How funny seeing them in NYC when they're actually based in the East End, too trippy. I think they were even at Grand Designs Live because I'm sure I recognise their work.

Anyway, a long over due house update: The first quote came in while I was at the airport. It was in a PDF so I couldn't open it on my Blackberry and Amy (the architect's assistant) kindly emailed me the bottom line. It was eye watering. It was three times more than our budget. When I got back from New York I went straight to a meeting with Anthony (the architect) and another building company to discuss the project in more detail. Anthony is of the opinion that the quote was unrealistic because they hadn't seen the property or had a full quantity survey to work from. This second option building company had stuck a flyer through my letterbox some time ago (since when do builders have to scout for work? They're impossible to pin down they're so busy!), and I like their ethos which is along the lines of sticking to a budget and doing the job on time.

The building manager came round to our house and was surprised it was sitting empty ("Yes, that's why we're so panicked. Paying two mortgages out when the rate on one of them is about to jump skyward isn't fun"). He insisted on doing a detailed quote using a proper bill of works, so that's costing around £400 but means we'll have an accurate quote in by the end of next week (the end of May! We foolishly thought we might even be living there by the end of May…) I'm pretty sure the quote will be beyond our budget, so we'll give them a month or six weeks to see how much work is completed, and then make a decision about whether to move in and let the work be completed in phases.

I'm loathe to do this because camping in a building site with two small children for months on end while we fund the rest of the work is so not my idea of a good time. I can't believe I was so smug watching episodes of Property Ladder/Grand Designs because our work was meant to be budgeted for realistically, oh, the irony...

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

International Contemporary Furniture Fair

So I've just gotten back from a whirlwind trip to New York for the annual ICFF and a few meetings. Unlike Salone del Mobile you could probably do the ICFF in half a day, or even an hour if you're strong willed. The Americans love their trade shows and are used to trawling endless cubicles of whiteness. I was used to being blown away at every exhibit, a la Zona Tortona. Also, quite a few of the ICFF products I'd seen last month before in Milan, and some, even the year before (how do these designers keep busy when so few items seem to get produced?). The best exhibits were in spaces that went beyond the norm, but they were far and few between. At least this one showing paper lamps (I think) was dramatic and bold. More to come...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Self sufficiency

The building quotes were due in today but it looks as thought it'll be next week (argh!) now. One of the building companies wants to meet us on Monday to show us some of their work and look at our house so they can quote properly (why didn't they raise this three weeks ago when they agreed to tender?). Anyway, the house has now been sitting empty for three full months and we're about to enter the fourth. It would've been great to know this from the outset so we could've rented it out to someone.

Anyway, while we sit around twiddling our thumbs I'm fantasising about the day (one year from now?) that the place is finished, decorated, habitable and the garden's thriving. Husband has always refused to enter into conversations about pets of any kind but after a visit to Grand Designs Live he was convinced about the merits of having an Eglu chicken coop. Not only is it a really fetching design but it's easy to clean and houses two child friendly chooks, which could produce up to a dozen fresh organic eggs a week. It's £395 all up (including two vaccinated chickens and delivery) which I think would pay for itself in less than two and a half years - and the chickens live for five years. Apparently there's no noise or smell to worry about (it's only roosters/cockerels that make a racket) and the coop is fox proof. Ooh, I just had a flashback to The Good Life - I was always a fan of Margo's cocktail dresses rather than Tom and Barbara's self sufficient ways.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Bright bathroom

Img from

This bathroom is in a Sydney house and has a few features I find quite attractive - firstly, the sliding door is transparent, letting lots of light in (and out). Secondly, the wall hung basins mean the small space doesn't look cramped. Thirdly, the wall of mirrors makes the room seem bigger (and they're practical, too), lastly, the place is flooded with light.

Hubby and I went to Grand Designs Live at London's Excel at the weekend and traipsed around it for six hours (!).It might sound like a lot of time spent but if you consider we could've easily spent 5 or 6 weekends going to various tile shops, joiners and bathroom stores then seeing them all in one day actually saved us loads of effort, arguing and most importantly, time.

We had a design session with the lovely people at Velux. We decided against having the remote controlled opening option, instead going for a second Velux in the hallway which will throw daylight down the stairs. The cost for both windows (1.3m wide in the bathroom and a standard width one in the stairs) is less than the price of one remote operated window, and opening them with a pole doesn't seem too bad when we've saving a several hundred pounds. Hopefully the Velux will mean our bathroom is as bright as this one!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Surface View

At the end of the build I doubt there'll be anything left in the coffers for such trivialities as furnishings. Well, not when you can buy blinds from Ikea. But should we happen to have some spare moolah I would love to buy some custom blinds from You can choose from their extensive archive of illustrations or photography and then superimpose the image on blinds (or wall murals or prints) of almost any size.

I'm keen on the blinds as this is solving two issues in one fell swoop - covering a window and providing a bit of art/colour in an otherwise undecorated space. Also, the blind option allows you to chose transparent or blackout, and prices for a 1m wide blind with VAT and postage starts at about £220.

The sultry lady caressing a tree (above) would be perfect as we own a framed print of this, or rather, we did. I left it in New Zealand with a friend for safe-keeping and when she got married I told her to keep it to save me sorting a present.

The sky (below) would be superb in the kids room or the office, giving a fake view of a perfect sunny day - can you imagine how lovely that would be in the depths of a bleak winter?

Each room in our new house has two windows, so if I had unlimited funds I'd get two for our room, two for the kids room and two for the spare room/office - around £1,320 all up. Ouch. What can I sell on eBay to fund my blind crush?

Friday, 2 May 2008

Retro light shades

More on the old skool tip. Here are some lights from Salone - I know, I know… getting to schlep around a massive furniture fair when in the midst of a house renovation is just a tad convenient - that reminded me of the plastic 1970s versions. These are made from super fine strips of wood though, so of course they have much better 'green' credentials. Not sure which design I like the best of the red/green ones at the back, and would I get sick of looking at it month in, month out? There will be very few opportunities for a pendant light in our house. Currently in fact I think there's only one - over the kitchen sink. The three in the foreground remind me of home-made Christmas card lanterns. They're made by a company based in Valencia called Luzifer Spain.

The lights below are by Tom Dixon and look super cool. They're very similar to a lampshade from the 60s that a friend of mine bought. When I look at these I think of Jane Fonda in Barbarella, the mid century house in a Clockwork Orange and my shiny new set of petanque balls...