Friday, 30 October 2009

Couchsurfing in style

Well, I wasn't strangled in my sleep by my couchsurfers. In fact they couldn't have been nicer. is an online hospitality network where you can offer accommodation and/or find somewhere to stay for free, all over the world. You can fully check out people's profiles and references before you decide to stay with them or have them to stay with you and there is no obligation either to host someone who requests, or to offer an exchange with someone who hosts you. This is because it is based on the 'pay it forward' principle, whereby, instead of paying someone back when they do you a favour, you pay it forward to the next person who needs a favour from you. It's a completely different economic principle and is the same way that freecycle and clothes-swapping work.

I joined couchsurfing because I wanted to meet interesting people, and have so far had three couchsurfers to stay, but haven't yet surfed myself. This is not for want of stylish, comfortable places to stay, however. When I first heard about it, the name 'couchsurfing' conjured up a scummy sofa belonging to some crusty type with matted hair (maybe because of the 'surfer' bit?). Couchsurfing is actually a bit of a misnomer, though, as many people offer spare rooms, guest annexes, or even whole apartments FOR FREE. Here are a few I fancy visiting:

For the price of a Eurostar ticket you could stay in this stunning apartment in central Paris's chicest district, Le Marais...

...or perhaps this beautiful houseboat, moored beneath the Eiffel Tower, is more your tasse de the...

... Stay in this light-and-airy bedroom in Florence and get access to the swimming pool as well...

... or if you fancy some sunshine now the clocks have gone back, why not take the train down to Morocco and stay in your own room in this very stylish pad in Marrakech?

... Or, for an adventure even further afield, how about your own hut on a working coffee plantation in Kerala, South India?

Finally, if you're REALLY lucky, you might end up staying on a sofabed in sunny Lewes...

... hmm, that one looks rather familiar, now I come to think of it...

In other news, I turn into a drivelling idiot in front of eco-designer and star of a million tv makeover programmes, Oliver Heath. What was that crashing noise, you say? Oh, nothing serious, just me swooning at the thought of those twinkly brown eyes. More on this story later.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

City casual

I am loving this chic, city-casual look, seen on the street in Milan by the Sartorialist:

If, like me, you became a teenager in the early 90s, you will already have spent a significant chunk of your life surgically encased in a black lycra mini-skirt and oversized jumper. This signorina reminds me of the effortlessly stylish older girls at school, who wore their regulation grey jumpers big and baggy.

The difference between English roses and la bella Milanesa above, however, is that, apart from two days in August, working this look in Britain involves the judicious use of leggings. I am currently recreating it with a grey v-neck, which I deliberately bought three sizes too big for that oversized look, black leggings and my black American Apparel mini. I do rate American Apparel: their easy-to-wear basics, the way pieces are casual yet sexy, and particularly their ethos: solar panels on the roof provide 15% of their energy, they use recycled and organic raw materials, campaign for cleaner cotton and have a very progressive stance on issues like gay rights and immigration. Right-on, guys.

I had forgotten how EASY this look is: it's deceptively simple as it works for smart or casual, day or evening, work or lounging. It even works for going into hospital to have your wisdom tooth extracted, which is how I wore it this afternoon. Oh, the glamour.

Tonight I have two perfect strangers staying on my sofabed. It's called couchsurfing and it's the amazing new way to see the world for free and meet interesting people at the same time. Tune in soon for a post on my couchsurfing experience and to see whether I have been murdered in my bed. Only joking: they are middle class. Tonight they've gone to Glyndebourne for goodness sake.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Through the keyhole: ShoeMissy

There are some friends whose houses evoke envy and inspiration in equal measure. For me, one of these is Anna, the creative brains behind ShoeMissy, purveyors of customised, vintage-style shoes, with a saucy hint of the 1950s pin-up about them. Anna's flat always inspires me as she has a talent for creating gorgeous vignettes by combining objects in casually creative ways:


The huge living-dining area is full of unusual details. A pair of ShoeMissy 'Amy Velvet' sequined platform courts make an unusual tableau on this chest of drawers, while they wait to be sent out to the next lucky customer:

The warm wood-tones of the stripped pine floor, and the bentwood rocking chair and stool create a cosy corner. The print of the portrait of a family ancestor was ordered from the National Portrait Gallery (where the original resides) and given a simple gold frame, from which he now casts a benevolent eye over the household:

Read more and see more photos after the jump...

Monday, 26 October 2009

These boots were made for (cat)walking

If you're vegetarian or vegan, you'll know that it's not always easy to find footwear that is sexy, comfortable and animal-free, all at the same time. There are specialist vegetarian shoe-purveyors out there, but as any veggie who has ever come within three feet of a copy of Vogue will recognise immediately, these can be sadly lacking on the style-quotient.

Fortunately, though, ethically-minded shoe-fetishists do have several options. You could go for man-made options on the high street, and goodness knows, there are plenty of them around if fast fashion is your thing. The downsides are that they are likely to be made from petroleum-based materials like pvc (possibly by a six-year-old Indian child), and that they are not likely to be built to last.

With this in mind, you could decide that it is better to buy leather, but less of it and splash out on an investment piece that will not need replacing next season. The trouble is that tanning leather can be just as environmentally damaging as producing the artificial alternatives. What to do? Well you could give a new life to leather that has been given to charity shops or clothes swaps. Or if you're buying new, Terra Plana has designs to delight the most discerning fashionista, made using recycled leather and vegetable dyes. I adore these quilted beauties:

If you're committed to investment dressing and want to stay strictly vegan, there are some high-fashion alternatives. Take a look at Beyond Skin and faint with desire at pieces like these high-heeled, hand-made, platform brogues *swoon*:

If money is no object, Stella McCartney is the go-to lady for vegetarian couture. These faux-leather boots would imbue any outfit with instant chic:

At £415, however, Stella is *ever so slightly* out of my price range. So what, I hear you ask, did Cockatrice decide to plump for in the end? Well, this season I will mostly be wearing...


... these divine 'Teese' boots from ShoeMissy. I love the concealed platform and the fact that they look equally sassy with dresses, skinny jeans or leggings. If you're not a hot pink kinda girl, the ShoeMissy site has versions with bows in three different shades of leopard print, which come on a detachable pin that can also be worn as a brooch. And even better, they're completely animal free! Vegan footwear just got a whole lot sexier...

p.s. Look out for a through-the-keyhole feature on the beautiful home of ShoeMissy founder Anna, coming soon here on Paper Flowers.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Thrify flowers, or the further uses of jam jars

In the absence of a camera, I cannot yet show you my new swished outfits, so thought I'd show you some pretty pictures of flowers instead. I wanted the flat to look its most gorgeous for the cameras on Wednesday, so decided to give it some new accessories in floral form. The only catch? Flowers are ridiculously expensive, considering they will live for a couple of weeks at most. So I gave myself a strict(ish) budget and set out on a mission to make £20-worth of flowers look like a million dollars...

Of course, the thriftiest way to deck your home with floral adornments is to grow your own. It's probably wise not to use wild flowers as they never live long once picked and, more importantly, you may be damaging the natural balance of a fragile ecosystem. So if, like me, you live in a flat with only window boxes to indulge your gardening dreams, how to decorate with flowers on a budget? Local florists are often cheaper and more flexible than supermarkets, allowing you to buy just a few choice stems and stick to seasonal blooms, which are less expensive and have a smaller carbon footprint, as they haven't been flown in from the tropics.

Your florist is also likely to reduce the price of flowers that have already opened, like these stunning lilies I bought in preparation for the film crew coming. Or these magnificently curly pink things I also picked up - I have no idea what they are, but love their mad, exploding petals:

Florists may even have flowers that will not last long as they are, but will be quite happy for quite a while if cut down.

Read more after the jump...

Friday, 23 October 2009


I am unseasonably excited right now, as I am off to a clothes-swapping party this evening. Clothes swapping, or swishing, as it is known, is the new hot craze sweeping the credit-crunch-stricken nation. All across Britain, fashionistas are banding together to share precious reserves of fabulous in these straitened times.

Swishing is like freecycle for fashion, with the added attraction of wine. I had a swishing party to celebrate my birthday last month (a camp invitation - above - always helps) and it couldn't have been easier: just invite your most stylish friends, ask them to bring at least one item of clothing, shoes or accessories, arrange everything on tables and let the swishing begin! There's no need for rules, just let everyone have a good old rummage and take whatever they want. I've found from experience that it's a good idea to reassure everyone that quality, quantity, size and age REALLY don't matter. No one knows who brought what, and there will always be something for everyone. One woman's trash really is another one's treasure when it comes to swishing.

Here is just one of the outfits I got at my birthday swish:

The cream silk blouse is People Tree and came via Anna, the funky, brown, high-waisted, Per Una flared jeans were from Sara, the Mulberry-inspired bag was Elaine's, and I have no idea who brought the brand-new, unworn Cote Femme gold heeled loafers, but I adore them. I would probably never have put this outfit together on my own, but I really love it, and have worn it again and again over the past month.

Have a look at this useful site for more information and tips on swishing, then give it a go. What have you got to lose but a load of old clothes that have been sitting at the back of the wardrobe for more seasons than you probably care to remember?

I'm off to get the bin-bag-full of clothes from my last clear-out down from the loft now. Stay tuned to see what goodies I return with...

p.s. Just in case you're wondering whether these photos of me posing next to a cot herald the arrival of a mini-Cockatrice, I must disappoint you: it belongs to Anna, whose full-length mirror happens to be bigger than mine!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Fame and freebies

Well, what excitement here at Paper Flowers! Yesterday was spent frantically cleaning and tidying chez Cockatrice, as I had a film crew from ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald (yes, THE Trevor McDonald, icon of our times. Bong) coming to film the flat to make a programme about freecycling.

If you haven't yet discovered freecycle and you like bagging a bargain, you are about to discover that it is in fact Christmas EVERY DAY. Freecycle is an international online movement with local groups, which aims to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by allowing people to pass on unwanted items to someone who will love them all over again. And the best bit? EVERYTHING IS FREE. You can post 'wanted' or 'offered' items, and respond to offers and requests from other freecyclers.

Below for your delectation and inspiration: a minuscule fraction of the magnificent haul I have had for free. The orchid was the most expensive thing in this photograph (£2.50 from my lovely local florist, who had decided it was past its best). Particularly fabulous freecycle finds were the gorgeous Sofa Workshop sofa, the Ikea oak Lack floating shelves and the iconic chrome Arco lamp. Quel result! And that's not to mention the sofa-bed, laptop, Gaggia coffee maker and flat-screen TV I've had though freecycle. Seriously, people, I am not even joking: GET ON THAT WEBSITE!

Clockwise from left: cushion, gift from my aunt; shelf, freecycle; radio, car boot sale; photo, gift from the photographer; clock, £1 from local antique market; picture, £2 from local fete; statuette, gift from my brother; china goldfish, given to my mum by a psychic; photo of my grandmother; boats photo, a swap with a friend; lamp, freecycle; embroidered cushion and table, on indefinite loan from my lovely neighbour, Anna!   

Certain things come up on freecycle over and over again: sofas, tv and hifi equipment that isn't quite the latest must-have-thing, all manner of furniture and more baby things than you can shake a rattle at. Much of this is stuff that people only use for a short period, so it is often in excellent condition.

Read more after the jump...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A jar, a door, ajar.

Until I decided to apply WD-40 to the hinges, all the doors in the flat stayed open by themselves. Admittedly, this isn't ideal for fire doors, which are supposed to protect me in the event of a conflagration. However solving one problem often creates a new one, and now my doors will not stay open. What to do?

Let's be honest, so many of the doorstops on the market are just plain hideous. There is a disturbing preponderance of fluffy animals (why so many hedgehogs? No, seriously, can anyone tell me what the link is between doors and hedgehogs?). If you don't want a 'cute critter', you have a choice of truly depressing 'fun' doorstops in the shape of shoes, banana skins, pieces of cheese, I could go on. What is it about 'fun' things for the home that makes me want to slash my wrists? I mean, what sane, grown-up human being wants it to appear that they have wedged their door open with a slice of cheese?

The solution I came up with is far more stylish and budget-friendly. Take a medium to large jar, preferably a pretty one. If you're anything like me you'll probably have a cupboard full of these waiting in vain to be filled with jam or used as makeshift flower vases. Kilner jars always have a certain charm, or empty Bonne Maman compote jars. Then fill your jar with marbles (these are the ones my brother and I used to play with as children). Et voila! A stylish doorstop from re-used materials that adds a touch of fun without the wrist-slashing. Hurrah!

p.s. When is a door not a door? When it's ajar (with a jar). Groan...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Amelie in Regency England, or decorating in red, green and gold

I'm a huge fan of Amy Merrick's Living In series for design*sponge, in which she takes the decor of films as diverse as The Remains of the Day and Dirty Dancing, and suggests ways to get the look at home. One film she has yet to tackle is the visually-sumptuous Amelie. When I was in Paris last year, I visited the cafe in Montmartre where Amelie was filmed:

It was surprisingly low-key, full of locals, rather than tourists. We had bieres et frites and watched the world go by for a while. I couldn't resist using les toilettes where Georgette and Raymond have their moment of passion...

Oui, c'est moi, ca. Anyway, the point is, ever since watching the film, I have wanted to paint the flat in shades of red green and yellow. I love the quirky, bohemian feel these colours give Amelie's apartement (pictures from Dwellings and Decor):
A toned-down version of this look can be found in My Summer of Love. I adore this coming-of-age film, which is never cliched, but sweet and sinister by turns.

The rambling pile in which much of the action takes place is decorated in muted reds and greens...

...with antique furniture upholstered in velvets and brocades, while swags and swathes contribute to a feeling of slightly decadent faded grandeur.

This is the perfect setting for bored, bohemian Tamsin. And who can be surprised that it casts a beguiling spell over troubled local girl Mona?

These looks are not too difficult to achieve on a shoestring, as they employ the shabby chic aesthetic to good effect. Look out for rich, textured fabrics in deep colours and don't worry about mixing furniture from different periods: regency antiques will happily sit alongside mid-century classics, with a touch of 50s kitsch thrown in for good measure. In both these films, I love the way coloured lampshades cast a warm glow, instantly adding a touch of magic to the atmosphere.

Last night I was wallowing in the Sunday evening comfort-fest that is BBC period drama, and noticed a yet more subdued version of this scheme in Emma:

I know, it's rather hard to see by candlelight, but I do love the combination of sage-grey and buttermilk walls with the faded-red sofa and gold cushions. Emma Woodhouse, the Amelie of Regency England? I feel a literary theory coming on...

Moroccan-inspired seating


More than any other item of furniture, a comfortable sofa is essential for harmonious entertaining. Whether friends drop round for a pot of mint tea, or require a spot for a post-prandial game of scrabble, cosy and abundant lounging space is at the heart of a welcoming home. But sofas do not come cheap: shop at any high-street store and you could end up spending hundreds, or more likely thousands, finding the right one. So what is a girl on a budget to do? For years I made do with a solitary, three-seater sofa, which meant that friends and family were forced to sit in a serried rank, whilst the unluckiest were relegated to hard, straight-backed dining chairs. And then it struck me: what could feel more luxuriously exotic than a Moroccan-inspired seating area? Something along the lines of this sumputuous makeshift settle photographed by Maryam from My Marrakesh, source of plentiful inspiration for North African-style interiors:
The beauty of this solution is that because the wall becomes the backrest, any number of things can be recycled or re-used to make the base: a low table will do the job, as in the Pondicherry bench from Maisons du Monde:
Photographer Ashley Campbell even used simple wooden pallets to make this marvellous daybed, which was featured on the wonderful design*sponge:

To make my own Eastern-inspired lounging area (below and top), I used an ancient camp-bed covered with an old chenille curtain and massed cushions piled against the wall. I love the way the rich textures and colours of the fabrics stand out against the flat charcoal wall with its gilt mirror. Just perfect for an afternoon tea party, no? Chic, recycled and practically free: what's not to love?

Sarah's bedroom makeover

Sarah Maddox runs the fabulous Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast. If you are ever planning a trip to sunny Brighton, the San-Fran of the South East, Magnolia House is a gorgeous oasis to return to after a day perusing the fabulous, quirky shops of the North Laines. This was her guest room before she decided to transform it into a holidaymaker's haven:
Guest room
Unprepossessing, to say the least. Tired bedlinen is never exciting, and that office chair and shelf of files would guarantee traumatic flashbacks for anyone who had come to escape that soul-sucking treadmill that is the world of work. But this makeover just shows what a difference a few small tweaks can make to the feel of a room:
21 Chester Terrace 010
A fresh coat of paint brings light into this south-facing bedroom, while a pillowy-soft new duvet and bedlinen just call out to be dived into:
21 Chester Terrace 009
A plush new rug in a neutral shade adds a luxurious finishing touch and a treat for bare feet that have just stepped out of bed:
21 Chester Terrace 006
But the biggest difference comes from turning that corner-office into a welcoming breakfast-area. Files have given way to flowers, wicker storage and space for toiletries and that horrid swivel chair has been replaced by simple seating and a space for tea for two. This inspires me to make the kind of simple changes that take a space from sad to glad overnight.

Style for a new planet

Hello internet and welcome to Paper Flowers, a space for all things stylish in the home and wardrobe, with a thrifty, ethical twist. I hope you will join me in my musings about life, fashion and interiors. I'm a girl with a tight budget, but I'm a firm believer that thrifty living doesn't have to mean compromising on style. Like most people, I want to do my bit for the environment, and a little bit more when I can. I'm convinced that this doesn't have to mean living in sackcloth and ashes and decorating with hand-flung hemp in shades of sludge. I will be featuring projects, makeovers, reviews and peeks through the keyhole of real people's homes. This is cheap, ethical style that is sexy, desirable and fun. This is style for a new planet!