It’s full-blown spring outside now. The daffodils in the pots by my front door are dancing, the sun wakes me in the morning (the joys of a window that faces North East!) and 6pm has hit me unaware several times this week, forcing me down from my stepladder of doom to make a hasty tea before grabbing the gloss brush and getting on with it.
I miss winter. I miss the dark, most of all. Nobody in their right minds would decorate a ceiling by artificial light, as I found out last week when the stripes on the Hall ceiling in the morning told me only too well that artificial light is beguiling and lies to me. I repainted the ceiling in the daytime. It is now brilliant white.
But most of all this year I miss the dipping into two beautiful winter books, Emma Mitchell’s Making Winter and Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles. They have been my constant companions for the last 6 months. I have set them aside, temporarily, and they will come out again, probably in September when the promise of the season ahead beckons again. I’ve been looking for the book to replace either one of them, and I think I may have found a very suitable replacement.
A Sense of Home has been written by Helen James. An Irish designer and homemaker, she has put together a book that captures her thoughts on what makes a home, what we need to do to create a feeling of home, and how important it is to consider all our senses when creating that haven.
She isn’t talking about massive changes to the home, just tweaking it to suit you. Her first piece of advice is “Start simply by learning to really connect with things you love, to allow yourself to discover them anew.” I love the exercise in the introduction, asking you to gather together the things in your home that speak to you, that (in Marie Kondo’s words) spark joy. Identifying our individual preferences is vital, if we’re to have a home that speaks of us in the living, not be a feeble copy of someone else’s taste.
The book is divided into six chapters, with the introductory chapter also setting the design ethos of the book as a way for you to build and better your own home. The rest of the book takes the main rooms of the house one by one and looks at how you can apply that design ethos to them. She goes through the kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom and outside, looking at how to improve the tactile qualities, balance design and practicality and above all colour: Helen James is a powerful advocate for using the colours you love.
Each chapter has recipes in, mostly for food that matches the room she’s talking about but sometimes for cleaning products and, in the case of the bathroom, for a collection of body products that include bath salts, face oil and body scrubs all made from natural ingredients. She also has small essays on different subjects, like Wabi Sabi or the importance of tea, and her writing often includes vignettes of her life in Ireland or New York. Helen writes like a friend, not a bossy friend, but a good friend, putting in hints and ideas but not imposing her preferences on you.
I think the photographs for this book must have been taken in summer… certainly, the outdoor chapter is full of picnics in the garden, sitting on the veranda and working in the vegetable plot. That use of light and sun, together with the light, fresh styling of Helen’s home, is why I think this is the book to see me through summer. It doesn’t have the craft element of Making Winter, but it does give me a cosy feeling when I read it and I am looking forward to cleaning my kitchen this weekend, and sorting it out to be both practical and pleasant to the senses.
I’m glad I treated myself to the book, it’s not a ground-breaking book on Grand Design, but a greatly practical book about making a home that suits you. I’m so impressed by it, that I’ll be (forgive the word) stalking Helen James for a while. She has a few Youtube videos, and is on Twitter and Instagram as well as having her own blog. I’ve been reading and rereading the book in between decorating my hallway for a couple of days now and… well. I’m booking a couple of days off in October to decorate the living room. There’s a shade of turquoise in the book that just might be the colour I was after….
Home as a sanctuary is such an important part of hygge. I live in as hyggely a way as I can, and write about that on my blog and in my books. My books have ideas that are good for hygge all year round, and are all available from Amazon. How to Hygge Your Summer, in Paperback and Kindle form, has lots of good ideas for the months ahead. Hygge is an all-year-round feeling, you see. 50 Ways to Hygge the British Way is available in Paperback and Kindle version and Have Yourself a Happy Hygge Christmas was released in September 2017 and is available again in paperback and ebook version. I’m currently working on my next book, Ways to Be Happier which I hope will be ready sometime during May this year.
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