Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Marvellous Melamine

Interiors and Homes

Indestructible melamine is back with a vengeance. Interior designer Jamie Hempsall charts its rise from the ashes.

We have reached the season where much time is spent deciding whether to dine inside or out – and having to hastily change your mind at the last minute. It is always a dilemma choosing what to eat off, as your best china and glass always seems a little more susceptible to breakage when used in the garden.

This summer sees a possible solution to all those problems with the resurgence in a great historical product, Melamine.

So here comes the science part!

Melamine is a formaldehyde base compound originally invented in the 1830s by a German Scientist called Liebig. It is used to make floor tiles, counter tops, cooking spoons and even fabrics; as well as dinnerware. If moulded when warm, Melamine sets into a fixed form with a smooth, durable surface that resists most food stains, is virtually unbreakable and dishwasher safe.

It was first used for dinnerware when the US Navy commissioned a range from the Watertown Manufacturing Company during the Second World War, as they needed something more practical than china on rough seas. This range was designed by Jon Hedu and first sold to the public under the name of “Watertown Ware” in 1945.

The economic development of the US in the 1950s meant a domestic scramble for all things “space age” with the introduction of new time-saving domestic appliances. Melamine was quickly adopted as the epitome of modernity as households rejected traditional crockery, particularly under the innovative design eye of Russel Wright who developed cutting edge melamine dining sets for the Northern Chemical Company. The popularity quickly spread over the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, melamine developed a reputation for being prone to scratches and stains and fell out of favour with the public who began returning to ceramic, china and glass-made dishes. By the 1970s, Melamine was largely consigned to use in camping equipment and children’s dining sets.

However, in the last few years it has found new favour with designers and is no longer solely the preserve of Peppa Pig or Scooby Doo. This is hardly surprising in an era when mid-century design is seeing a renaissance throughout all areas of the home.

Sales of vintage melamine products have risen dramatically on eBay and modern designers all now seem to be clamouring to use this practical product.

So the interior/exterior dilemma need worry you no further as the modern designs are extremely attractive with a slight edginess resulting in products that would not look out of place in any dining room.

Emma Bridgewater, the bastion of the modern English kitchen dresser, has developed a number of ranges which are smothered in delicious pattern – perfect for a picnic or just a pick me up.

She even has a melamine version of her iconic “Black Toast” range with suitably appropriate descriptive calligraphy (from £4; www.emmabridgewater.co.uk – 0844 243 9266).

Just to show how firmly this trend is entrenched in the UK, Cath Kidston has three different ranges (“Dotty”, “Flower” and “Daisy Pop”) which feature strong patterns and brilliant colours (from £3; www.kathkidston.co.uk – 08450 262 440).

Other designers have also joined the party by designing ranges for the High St with the likes of Jonathan Adler’s Neptune Salad plate for Heals and Ella Doran’s Indiantale range for Habitat.

Quirkiness (and not a little kitsch) seems to abound in a lot of the designs, with many museums and galleries introducing patterned plates. If you fancy nibbling off Napoleon then the new w2products National Gallery range features some of the funniest and most famous faces in the museum’s collection. There are four dinner plates, four side plates and a large platter (from £5; www.w2products.com – 0207 922 1444).

There are psychedelic patterns and 60s kitsch sprinkled throughout the designs. French Bull lead the way with their Pink Paisley and Ring Ranges (various stockists from £6); whilst the “Retro Inspired Marmite Tray” from We Love British will delight Anglophiles and Warhol fans alike (£11.95; www.welovebritish.co.uk – 01442 831991).

Indeed so strong is the current market that the Danish design firm Rice, who have a reputation for fairtrade homewares which combine strong design and good social ethics, have just opened a new “shop of funkiness” at 16a Neal’s Yard, London WC2 where you will be able to sample the delights of their entire range which starts at around £2.50 for a melamine beaker.

The High Street also has a terrific amount of melamine this summer. Some of the best examples include M&S’s Flower and Reef Ranges (from £2.50; www.marksandspencer.com) and John Lewis’s Summer Dot and Woodland Leaf designs (from £3; www.johnlewis.com).

Jamie Hempsall, BIID is the winner of Best Interior Design - North East in the UK Property Awards 2011. Visit him at www.jamiehempsall.com or call 0800 032 1180.


ALTHOUGH it is unbreakable, Melamine should not be used in the microwave and never in the oven. It does tend to absorb heat, which can cause it soften, blister or potentially crack – so careful with extremely hot food. However, it is dishwasher safe. For scratches or stubborn stains use one of the especially designed cleaning products on the market, rather than a scouring powder or cream

This article was featured in the Yorkshire Post on Saturday 21st May 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

Moroccan Flavour to Outdoor Eating


WITH the prospect of balmy evenings returning, interior designer Jamie Hempsall considers an alternative for al fresco dining.

We Brits have embraced the idea of dining outdoors. However, it is often still in a formal fashion – the equivalent of taking your dining suite outside and sitting properly at the table.

Cultures that regularly experience hot evenings have a much more relaxed attitude to the whole situation, recognising that long evenings of happy chatting, drinking and dining can be better facilitated if revellers are totally laid back. So why not throw caution to the wind and embrace a bit of Eastern culture? Forego the table, forget the chairs and instead look to lounge in comfort.

This season sees an array of Moroccan inspired outdoor offerings which are perfect for creating your ideal dining experience. Think picnic with a twist and you are half way there.

Base everything around a central carpet area where you can put out your food and drink. Kilims are purpose built for this; they are incredibly hardwearing and fold up easily so that you can store them in a relatively small space. Specialist rug sellers often have them at reasonable prices and ebay usually have a good selection available (remember to check the size of the rug you are buying).

You might also want to consider the likes of the Acapulco Picnic Mat which is made from recycled plastic and fashioned to look like a traditional rug. It may not be as comfortable as a kilim, but is incredibly practical and the price point makes it a worthwhile alternative. (£19.95 in a variety of colours from www.dotcomgiftshop.com – 0208 746 2473).

Surround the edges of your carpet with masses of cushions and Moroccan pouffes. The more the merrier is the name of the game – think of falling back into a generous pile of cushions, rather than balancing precariously on one. Homesense have faux leather Moroccan inspired pouffes for those who would prefer something more upright (from £19.99; www.homesense.com – 01923 473000 - see main picture).

To light up your evening forget patio lights and opt instead for the gentle glow of candlelight. Moroccan style glass lanterns are perfect for countering our rather windy weather. Tesco has wonderful white lanterns with coloured glass at £11 each (www.tesco.com – 0800 505555), while Homesense claim that they will be selling the biggest range of Moroccan lanterns on the high street this summer with prices from £14.99. Add intimate lighting around the dishes of your feast with an assortment of tea lights in patterned holders which will cast exotic shadows.

Two of my favourites are the Etched Glass Candle Holder finished in silver (£4; www.roseandgrey.co.uk – 0560 311 3405) and Bangle Tealights fashioned from recycled Indian Bangles (also £4; www.berryred.co.uk – 01432 274805).


DRESS your area with earthenware pots and vases to create a rustic Bedouin atmosphere and serve dates and mint or apple tea poured from a coffee pot into small glasses for an exotic after dinner digestive (the set here were purchased in the Souk at Marrakech).

To ensure that you can enjoy lounging until late invest in a firepit which you can keep close by and then regroup your cushions around to end the evening in a warm and welcoming glow.

Jamie Hempsall, BIID, is an award-winning interior designer. Visit him at www.jamiehempsall.com or call 0800 032 1180

This article was originally published in the Yorkshire Post on Weds 18th May 2011

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Private Function


An Englishman’s home is their castle, so interior designer Jamie Hempsall explores ways to keep your domain stylishly private

 The net curtain used to be the true mark of middle-England domesticity, a sparkling white set demonstrating a well-kept and respectable home.  Of course, their true role was to ensure privacy for the householder, whilst affording them a surreptitious view into the outside world and access to filtered natural light. 

The humble net has fallen out of favour in recent years.  However, there is still a real need for many of us to be able to ensure our homes retain an element of privacy; not to mention to provide protection from direct sunlight for delicate fabrics and furniture.

The most obvious modern day replacement for the net curtain is the voile which filtered over from the Mediterranean market as people sort to recreate the lighter look seen there.  These window treatments are usually made from cotton, rayon or silk and come in an array of patterns and colours.  They work best made up as curtains, with a generous allowance of fabric (allow two and a half times the width of your window as a minimum) and benefit from a pinch pleat heading.   If you are thinking of making them up yourself, be aware that voiles can be difficult fabrics to work with and only purchase header tape specifically made for them.

However, in the last five years strings have become a fashionable alternative after serving their apprenticeship demarking VIP areas in some of the trendier nightclubs.  Strings inject an element of chic and a contemporary update to any interior scheme.  I find they work equally well as a stand-alone window treatment or a supplement to curtains. Many ranges come in the form of vertical blinds which are no longer the hideous product once associated with 1960s office blocks, but provide a subtle alternative to allow the householder to vary the impact of direct sunlight and external view. 

Despite appearances String Blinds are incredibly hard-wearing and perfect for high traffic areas such as patio doors where you can keep them closed, but still pass through easily (although you may find barbeque guests finds it difficult to resist making a “ta-dah” entrance into your garden!).  The product is usually laser cut to the exact length you require and most companies offer them in a wide array of colours which should satisfy even the most vibrant interior scheme.

I have also used semi-translucent gauze roller blinds to great effect over the years, particularly in places such as dining rooms where delicate woods can become easily damaged by direct sunlight.  Opting for a more ornamental finish ensures confidence that these blinds will enhance your scheme, rather than being a necessary evil.  Whenever, I use roller blinds, I generally opt for a chain lift mechanism, rather than spring-pull as I find that they are much easier to use and require less maintenance.  I would definitely also recommend installing remote control operated blinds for windows that are harder to access (battery and solar powered options now make these a more cost effective option).

Sometimes, privacy can be a bit more of an issue and, therefore, you may want to seek something that has a more permanent feel – particularly at night when voiles and translucents effectively become see-through when back lit.  The traditional venetian blind offers one of the best ways to block out the exterior, whilst allowing light in and is experiencing another period of popularity, having last seen true dominance in the stripped back interiors of the early nineties.  The sheer range of finishes that are now available, from natural woods to slats that can be custom colour-matched to your walls, make these a terrifically versatile product.  They tend to work best with modern interiors and in places where you do not have other window dressings. 

If you are considering using venetian blinds in a bedroom as your main window treatment and your sleep is affected by light, be aware that many mechanisms do still allow a lot of light pollution even when fully closed.  However, new mechanisms are available from a small number of companies (such as Shuttercraft) that provide a more effective blackout solution, they are only slightly more pricey, but definitely worth the investment if this is likely to be a problem for you.

Although previously more popular in the American market, slated shutters are also now being introduced more widely into UK homes.  This does tend to be a more significant investment and a very definitely style statement, but they are incredible effective and, as they tend to be made-to-measure, can help provide excellent solutions to non-standard window shapes.

Of course, if you are really looking for the ultimate in day-time privacy, but do not want to consider the option of blinds or shutters take a tip from Hollywood and look directly to your windows.  One-way glass where the occupant can see out, but the outsider just sees a mirrored finish is now much more commonly available, if a little pricey.  If you do not want the expense of replacing your windows, are extremely methodical and good at DIY then you can achieve a similar effect by applying a mirrored window film which is available on-line from just a few pounds.  

Don’t blame me though if your home ends up on a map of the “Rich and Famous”.

Jamie Hempsall is a member of the British Institute of Interior Design and an award winning interior designer.  Visit him at www.jamiehempsall.com or call 0800 0321 180.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Beauty for Beauty's Sake

It is 150 years since the establishment of the Aesthetic Movement, the first ever artistic movement to inspire an entire lifestyle and revolutionise the way we think about and decorate our homes. This month sees two events celebrating the occasion.

The Aesthetic Movement anniversary is being marked by two important events for the interior design world, a major exhibition at the V&A and the launching of a retrospective fabric and wallpaper collection featuring the designs of William Morris.

The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 runs until the 17th July at the V&A.  It is a visual treat that I would highly recommend as it has gathered for the first time many of the greatest masterpieces in painting together with sculpture, design, furniture and architecture as well as fashion and literature of the era.

Aestheticism was borne out of a reaction against the art and strict ideas of the Victorian establishment.  The movement sort to promote “art as important for its own sake" and that beauty should be valued for itself alone.

The movement also helped create the phenomena of celebrity watching as the public developed an unprecedented fascination with the lives of the artists and their exhibitions.  The personalities involved still remain household names: including Oscar Wilde, Dante Gabriele Rossetti, Edward Burn-Jones and William Morris.

This group developed from the romantic bohemianism of a small avant-garde circle in the 1860s to a cultural phenomenon.  Their style was characterised by the widespread use of motifs such as the lily, the sunflower and the peacock feather, drawing on such diverse sources as Ancient Greek art and modern day Japan.

The exhibition features over 250 objects including a number of set-pieces which evoke interiors of the day such as the celebrated Grosvenor Gallery exhibition and Whistler’s Peacock Room.  The V&A are understandably proud that this is the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged on the Aesthetic Movement in Britain.

The aesthetic style permeated all areas of life and many leading manufacturers of furniture, ceramics, wallpaper and textiles such as Liberty’s of London capitalised on the public interest by commissioning pieces by prominent designers.  The resulting products were among the first that were widely accessible to an aspiring middle class and transformed the furnishing and decoration of the home.

William Morris was a key member of the movement and arguably one of the most influential designers of the nineteenth century.  Together with the artist Edward Burne-Jones and the architect Philip Webb, he is crediting with forming the revolutionary Arts and Crafts movement.
Through Burne-Jones, Morris met Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the father of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  After Morris married Jane Burden, one of Rosetti’s models, the couple moved into a new home, the Red House in Bexleyheath which was designed for them by Philip Webb.  Morris and his friends decided to complete the decoration in the mediaeval style creating all the furnishings including stained glass windows, murals and tapestries.  Following this successful project the group decided to found Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company (known as “The Firm”) to turn their domestic hobby into a commercial venture in 1861. 

“The Firm” aimed to create the finest hand-made fabrics, wallpapers and furnishings at competitive prices available to all – something that was considered controversial at the time – and the general home furnishings market was truly born.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of “The Firm” Morris & Co. is launching four collections of wallpapers and fabrics.  In doing so they have revisited some of the best loved William Morris designs, taken reference from some of the many samples housed in the Morris Archive and been inspired by the textiles found within Morris’ residences, in particular his beloved Kelmscott Manor, now owned by The Society of Antiquaries in London.

The Archive wallpaper collection features a selection of 11 iconic designs from the Morris & Co. archive which have been reproduced as faithfully as possible to the originals in scale and colour.  Some have also been given a 21st century twist using metallics and modern techniques (from £38 per roll).

The Archive Prints collection retains the characteristics of the hand-block printed fabrics that William Morris turned his attention to after establishing his production of wallpapers.  It features some of the original colourations and designs by Morris & Co. with new designs inspired by his woven tapestries and embroideries painted by the present design teams (from £37 per m).

The Archive Weaves range includes a faithful reproduction of some of the classic jacquard weave and tapestry fabrics that Morris & Co. produced.  As with the other collections they have also introduced new jacquard and tapestry interpretations of the most loved Morris & Co wallpaper designs.  All items in the weave range are suitable for upholstery and curtains (from £42 per metre).

The fourth collection, Archive Embroideries, reintroduces exquisite designs by Jane Morris, May Morris and John Henry Dearle alongside new embroidery interpretations of wallpaper designs (from £65 per metre).

The stature of William Morris has grown throughout the twentieth century and is seen everywhere.  His work is synonymous with excellence of design and his legacy is reflected in the continuous demand for Arts & Crafts wallpapers and fabrics to this day.  Whilst the aims of the Aesthetics are as Sir Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, has commented “current again today”.

The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 has been organised in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and is on display at the V&A Museum until 17th July 2011.  Tickets are £12 (concessions are available).  For advance bookings visit www.wam.ac.uk.

The Morris & Co. Archive collections are available from local stockists or directly from Jamie Hempsall Ltd.  For details call 0844 543 4749 or visit www.william-morris.co.uk.

Jamie Hempsall is a member of the British Institute of Interior Design and an award winning interior designer.  Visit his website www.jamiehempsall.com or contact him on 0800 032 1180.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Central Eating

Interiors - Kitchens
The lifestyle of the modern family means that they use a home in a very different way to previous generations. This revolution has been brought about by a move towards more casual living over the last three decades, aided by the revolution in home technology.
As a result, rooms are becoming far more multi-functional and no longer have to be assigned a specific purpose (such as a home office or television room) as the activity can move with the individual.
In addition, the development of the full time working family, rather than stay-at-home parenting, can necessitate creating areas in your home to provide natural meeting spaces for your family. The most obvious place for this to happen is in the kitchen, as everyone gravitates there at some point simply to eat.
Home cooking trends also to mean your kitchen is less likely to be ruled by the family meal creator – particularly as the average person now spends less than 30 minutes preparing a weekday meal. So it could be one of the underutilised resources in your home.
Families have often traditionally had an informal eating space in the kitchen (be it a breakfast bar or small table), but people are now seeing the benefit of opening up their food preparation areas and integrating them into everyday living spaces.
This trend means that the kitchen is definitely becoming the heart of the home, wrestling dominance from the living room. To achieve this successfully you do need to incorporate a number of key elements and this is where space and planning is vital.
Obviously, you still need somewhere to prepare and cook meals. The preparation element is essential so you should never compromise on worktop space when designing any area. Worktops in a modern kitchen often get “eaten up” by the various essentials that we all now have (microwaves, blenders and coffee machines seem to be firm fixtures – so you have to plan accordingly).
However, a good size, formal dining table and chairs helps to create a further focal point. This is not only for dining at, but also where family members can multi-task while keeping in contact with the person creating a meal.
Finally, a comfortable seating area, with access to a television, in the vicinity of the table and kitchen areas means that your “together time” is naturally extended as people move from table to seating, rather than migrating to their own personal areas.

Our pictures feature a kitchen living area that we created in a large period property.
Cooking was a critical function of this area, as our client was a keen amateur chef, so it was essential that we provided a kitchen with really usable cooking spaces. We wanted to evoke elements of the art deco with a modern twist and to create a practical living area which could be both relaxing and invigorating.
Our emphasis was on durability, style and storage as the room needed to service not only the family, but to act as a focal point for entertaining – so it was essential that the worksurfaces could stay relatively clutter free.

Chiselwood, cabinet makers who specialise in bespoke kitchens (01522 704446; www.chiselwood.co.uk), created and manufactured a wonderful design which incorporated all the best elements of art deco with a modern twist.
The units were crafted in walnut with burr walnut panels and the interiors of the cupboards were lacquered in loganberry and lime cordial. Star galaxy granite tops, which are perfect for pastry, added a stylish and hardwearing finish.
Despite its large proportions, the galley style design ensured that the kitchen was logical and easy to use.
We echoed the natural tones of the kitchen in a Bitter Chocolate Hussar Limestone Floor with white and grey veining. The floor patterns were all designed to flow from the shapes of the central reservation, linking all areas of the room together. Chiselwood also made a table and chairs, echoing the woods and design of the kitchen units. These were covered in Phaeton by Osborne & Little, a stunning yet incredibly practical fabric.
The fireplace from Chesney was used to define a grand focal point and hint at baronial dining halls. It also provided the perfect location for the remote controlled TV, housed in a complimentary wood frame. The TV was mounted on a movable wall bracket so that it could be angled towards the cooking area if required.
A bespoke club chair and chesterfield sofa upholstered in Zoffany Rossini Stripe were used to create a conversation area around the Andrew Martin side table.

The feedback we get whenever we create this type of living space is that the rooms end up being the most used in the house and in the majority of cases our clients find that they spend an increased amount of quality time with their families.
Jamie Hempsall, BIID is an award-winning interior designer. You can contact him on 0800 032 1180 or visit his website www.jamiehempsall.com