Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sicily

Last Monday Andrew had a Significant Birthday so we decided to take a few days off and visit Sicily, an island we hadn't been to before. We based ourselves in Taormina, in the Villa Greta, a small hotel which should rate higher than it's 2*. Located at the top of the town the view of Taormina and Mount Etna is stunning and it's less than ten minutes walk into town. Well it is on the way there, on the way back it takes a little longer as it's all uphill. The pain wasn't over when we reached the hotel as there were 108 steps to our bedroom!
Taormina at night

The main street, Corso Umberto I is lined with 14th & 15th century palazzi and a myriad of shops, offering traditional hand painted ceramics, tempting food and quite a few designer retail outlets. There are some antique shops and I was pleased to see some old puppets, with which Sicily has a long history, as I have a friend who is a puppeteer. Taormina is quite a glitzy town but off the main street are alleyways, quaint corners and balconies galore.

Ceramics galore
Antique  Sicilian puppets

Typical Taorminan street
Not overly suitable for cobbled streets

Flower laden balconies at every turn

Best of all was the constant scent of citrus blossom, everywhere you turn there are orange and lemon trees; lying in bed the perfume drifted in.

Citrus fruit everywhere

Orange & lemons at every turn

Our first day we spent celebrating Andrew's birthday, which involved a long and leisurely lunch and sitting watching the beautiful people go by.

Substitute birthday cake

On Tuesday we decided to explore and drove to Cefalú. We had brought with us 'Naggy Nora' the sat nav, just to make life easier. We climbed out of town into the mountains behind us. It got a little twisty and the road was a little rustic but I checked the map and we seemed to be on the right track. I say track because that's what it was in places. It wasn't that the sat nav was playing up, it's what Sicilian mountain roads are like. Fortunately for me Andrew is an excellent driver, phased by very little and enjoys a challenge. On the plus side the views were spectacular and when we stopped to take some photographs all I could hear was the bells on the goats. Everywhere you looked there was fennel growing wild and masses of wild flowers. Eventually we reached a fast road and continued to our destination.

Right road

Sicilian mountain road

Mount Etna

I have to confess to being a little disappointed in Cefalú which the guide books had said was a warrren of medieval streets. They were old and narrow but most of the buildings have been restored without much thought to retaining their history. There were lots of balconies (I like balconies) many with washing stretching over them. The small beach is still home to some fishing boats and is a popular place for the men to gather.
Cefalú
Patience

Etna rises behind Taormina and had had a small eruption the day before we arrived, thick black smoke marked the passage of the cooling lava flow, but we decided with a forecast of minus 3 and snow to give it a miss. Instead we explored the town and joined in the national pastime of just sitting and watching.

Evening is the best time for this as everyone, visitors and locals, heads for the Corso Umberto. We found a café in a prime position and discovered 'Apero-spritzer'  - martini rosso & sparkling wine. All I would say is don't knock it until you've tried it!

Evening stroll

Watching the world go by


Apero Spritzer

On our final day we headed to Noto, a baroque town in the south of the island. The original town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and the government decided to rebuild away from the original site and commissioned the finest architects of the day. They co-operated to build a city with wide streets, squares to act as focal points and views everywhere. All the buildings are of honey coloured limestone and therein lies the problem. In 1986 a structural survey was undertaken and it was discovered that the buildings were in a state of such fragility that the slightest tremor would destroy them. The seriousness of the situation became apparent when the cupola of the cathedral collapsed in 1996. In 2002 UNESCO designated Noto as a world heritage site and funding was gained to save some of these stunning buildings.

Unrestored in Noto

Restored

Walking round the city you can see extreme contrasts between the buildings that have been restored and those that haven't. Some are now just façades, the buildings behind destroyed. But everywhere the details are beautiful, particularly some of the balcony supports.

Balcony support

The church of the Collegio has a white and gilded stucco interior and stairs up the bell tower with magnifcent views over the city.

Baroque interior - Noto

I'm not good on heights, nor slippery stairs, but I gritted my teeth, hung on to the rope and headed up. I have to thank Andrew for most of the photographs as I couldn't go near the edge, just stayed in the middle and took detail shots! Descending was even worse and at one stage Andrew seriously thought he would have to talk me down! My hand ached for ages from gripping the rope so tight and it took a double espresso to get me back to normal.
It was a long way up, just that rope to hold


View from the bell tower

As you can imagine we took a lot of photographs and if you want to see more then I've created a slide show for you to have a look. If you want to the them in a larger format just double click to get to the album.




Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Curtain tricks

To me good interior design doesn't have to be expensive. We don't all have huge budgets, the ability to spend £100+ a metre on fabrics and completely renew all furniture and fittings each time we decorate. Good design takes time and having a vision and sticking to it, it's one of the reasons that I use concept boards, even for my own projects. It helps me stay focused and stops impulse purchases that rarely work.

But on to curtains which can be a huge chunk of a room's decorating budget. Andrew says I'm a bit of a curtain snob! Unless they're lightweight summer curtains designed to filter the light and move gently with the breeze, curtains hang much better when they're lined. My  preference is for natural fabrics, particularly linen. I like the texture and they hang nicely but linen can be expensive and usually you need quite a few metres. Our sitting room needed 28 metres and when I was sourcing fabrics I fell in love with a rust coloured linen from de Le Cuona

It was the centre tie I loved

but at £70 metre (£1960 in total!) it wasn't going to happen. So I spent quite a time searching my suppliers and had several samples sent to me until I found a brick red dress linen at £5.99 metre, so a cost of £168.00. Now I will be the first to admit that the quality isn't the same but the colour is almost a match, it has the texture I like and, importantly, didn't compromise my design.

They are a tad darker in reality
Now I know that not everyone wants to make their own curtains so I have another trick up my sleeve, one I used for the guest room.

Again I wanted the softness and texture of linen but wasn't prepared to spend a fortune. A favourite place of mine for bed linen and curtains is La Redoute, they have a good range of colours, use a lot of natural fabrics and are affordable, particularly as they always have discounts. They have various widths and are long.

La Redoute curtains

For me the only downside is the headings, most of them are tab top or eyelet, both of which to me scream 'off the shelf curtains' (maybe Andrew is right I AM a curtain snob!)

Before

I washed them first as dark colours have a habit of running and it will also take care of any shrinkage before cutting. Then I removed the eyelets.

I'm dangerous with a pair of shears
After hemming I pinned liner fabric to the curtains and hand stitched them on. If you really don't like sewing you can buy ready made curtain liners, I know that both John Lewis and Dunelm Mill stock them.

Lining the curtains
Finally I stitched header tape to the top.

Header tape
And then they were hung.

Ready to draw!
Two ways of getting designer curtains on a budget. If anyone wants a concept board designed for them then just leave a comment - I'd love to help!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Finished!

I know it's been a while since we last posted but we've been concentrating on finishing the guest room. Last time you saw me I was up a ladder with a paint brush, which resulted in this...

White gloss & emulsion

Then two coats of top coat.

Dulux Wishing Well grey

Andrew fitted the ceiling light.

Centre pendant

I made curtains over Easter which Andrew hung.

New pole

Mirrors & bedside lights were bought and fitted.

Bedside glamour

At my last upholstery class of the term I made a headboard.

Funky headboard

Some colour and texture were added.

Lloyd Loom chair, woollen throw & cushion

Pictures were hung.

Inuit birds

And finally it was finished.

Ready for guests

One bedroom down, three to go!