Monday, 31 August 2009

The curious art of investing in modern design

The market for quirky modern furniture and home accessories has rapidly become a focus of attention for art aficionados and professional investors alike. Gareth Williams, the curator of the V&A’s Telling Tales exhibition says, “Suddenly almost every object conceived within a spirit of enquiry and experiment can be passed off as ‘design art’, even if it barely registers any fundamental test of design (functionality, for example, or appropriate use of resources) …within a few years, an entirely new ‘design art’ market has arisen as an adjunct to the mainstream market for contemporary art, fed by the rivers of corporate and personal wealth that course through art.”

I’d agree that, just because something is a little bit unusual and different from the norm, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s of any more value. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and prices in the art market can fluctuate dramatically, according to popular demand and personal taste. When an artist becomes a ‘celebrity’ things can get completely out of hand – as in the case of Damien Hirst, where, in my opinion, the media hype far outweighs the talent involved and the actual worth of the pieces being sold.

I’m curious to know if ‘design art’ is headed in the same direction as the financial markets. How can one possibly know what’s worth buying? How can these sorts of items be accurately valued? When is the right time to invest: now, later, or never at all? Based on my own experience and intution, I’ve devised some sensible suggestions for how to decide on whether or not to invest in a piece of arty designer furniture:

Firstly, there are practical considerations that you should take into account, for instance, can you actually use the item in question and roughly how much might the piece have cost to make in terms of materials and labour? Is the piece unique, or one of a limited edition? What is the quality of the craftsmanship? If you’re buying to sell, then do you have evidence of the highest (and lowest) price that someone else is likely to pay for this sort of work? Be realistic, what if there’s financial Armageddon – is your purchase really practical, strong, built to last …or could it be recycled to create something useful like a barbeque or some firewood?

Do also bear in mind that the purchase of creative design is best made as an investment in your own personal wellbeing (after all, you’re the one who’ll be sharing space with your purchase) – and, of course, it’s also an investment in the talent pool of the design art market (so a form of patronage). Other subjective considerations worth making before you buy are:

What is the value of the ‘design’ to you – do you actually like it and could you live with it in your home for the rest of your life? Does it fit in with the style of your home, the rest of your furniture, or other key pieces in your collection? What does the piece ‘mean’ to you – is there an emotional reason as to why you are drawn to this particular item, does it hold memories, suggest a story or have a special significance?

By the way, at ShopCurious, we’ve some beautifully hand crafted, eco-friendly furniture, made by young designer, Ali Chapkin - inspired by her travels in Mexico. To my eye, the natural materials, the bold, earthy colours and curved lines are aesthetically appealing – plus, these are all practical, usable items. What’s more, they're the sort of pieces that I feel would look good in many types of setting: from modern apartments and modernist homes to ski chalets, holiday villas and cutting edge bars.

As to whether or not these will prove to be a good investment, well that’s up to you to decide …so let the buyer beware.

Will you?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Curiously crafty knitted chairs

The ubiquitous plastic chair comes in all shapes, colours and sizes. Whilst many have attempted to re-design its form, resulting in all manner of cool, ‘designer’ versions, few have been creative enough to look beyond the actual fabric of the chair itself.

Here’s an example (left), where a plastic chair has been recycled to create a rather curious looking piece of furniture … it’s intricate, arty and fairly pleasing to the eye, but I’m not sure how comfortable this chair would actually be to sit on.

The Brazilian Campana brothers have inventively embedded plastic chairs in what appears to be natural wicker to create a sprawling, organic-form sofa – perfect if you have plenty of room, or your own art gallery to put it on display.

Yuvinia Yuhadi, a recent graduate from London, has come up with a rather more practical solution in the form of these curiously quirky hand-knitted chair covers - now available online at ShopCurious. They’ll transform any standard plastic garden chair into a cozy and inviting armchair.

Collectively branded as ‘the not-so-ubiquitous knitted chairs’, each of the covers has been lovingly handmade by an eclectic group of passionate knitters from around the world. The designs currently for sale include a cable-knit version, based on the traditional gentlemen’s club style leather armchair, a lacy-knit nature inspired design and a racy-knit laced up mini-length number.

If you can’t afford to buy one of the ready made versions, there’s even the option to knit a cover yourself, with free patterns provided by the designer.

This would probably be a lifetime’s work for me, although I did manage to knit the odd scarf back in my dim an distant school days ... however, if you’re the crafty type, who’s willing an to take on a challenge and dedicated enough to see it through to completion, then this could be just the thing to while away the winter hours.

And I don’t think there’s anything more innovative-but-sensible that you could do with a plain old plastic chair.

Do you?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Naturally sensible style - it's Hatastic!

I thought I’d celebrate a lovely late summer day in London by waxing lyrical about the wonders of nature here along the River Thames. The other day I spotted a dragonfly on my terrace, which was a really wonderful surprise – and makes up for the legions of nasty mosquitoes and irritating little flies that seem to come our way. This year there have also been quite a few more butterflies, although apart from the odd Red Admiral, it’s mainly been Cabbage Whites (click on the pics to enlarge).

There are plenty of birds by the river as well. There were goldfinches nesting in my sixth floor olive tree - and we even had a visit from a friendly robin the other day. Down on the river, there are wagtails, swans, cormorants, ducks, geese, seagulls, crows and herons – plus massive flocks of starlings and swallows that flit from bridge to bridge and across the rooftops every evening at this time of year (see above) ... though I'm never quite fast enough to capture the perfect photograph of thousands in flight.

I won’t mention the pigeons as, thankfully, they’re probably better catered for elsewhere in town – or in the nearby park, where I’ve seen a lady throwing bag loads of breadcrumbs to them.

Talking of which, my mother recently went on holiday to Devon and came back laden with bursting plastic bags full of huge pebbles and shells from the beach, which she collected for me to 'decorate' my outdoor plant pots with (thanks Mum - good job you didn’t go abroad, as the plane would probably have fallen out of the sky under the weight).

Equally inspired by nature is the inventive British milliner, Chloe Haywood, whose Hatastic! fascinators are currently available at ShopCurious. If you’ve a late summer wedding to attend, a dressy garden party, or any posh event, (indoors or out), one of these beautifully handmade creations could be just the thing to set off your outfit.

The hats are individually made using recycled pieces of vintage fabric and quirky bits and bobs found by the designer – and each one is totally unique, so you won’t suffer the embarrassment of someone else turning up in the same design. Eco-friendly, reasonably priced and totally timeless, these curiously cute little fascinators simply ooze sensible style. What’s more, they’re really unusual too, so you’re bound to end up with lots of interesting comments from all sorts of curious types…

In the words of that great social butterfly Oscar Wilde, ‘there’s only one thing worse than being talked about …’

Are you?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Sensible style in the sun

My travels around the world recently took me to Marbella, where I stayed with some wonderful friends and took a much welcome and all too short break in the sun. I don’t want to bore you with my holiday snaps (none of which have been airbrushed in case you were wondering), but it is the silly season after all - and I’d like to use some of them to make a few observations.

I’m so fed up with all of the stories that appear in almost every magazine and newspaper (I usually only read them at the hairdressers, so this is probably an opportune moment to unveil my new hair do – see left). The focus is always on women’s bodies - rarely men’s you will note: They’ve either lost weight, gained weight, have just been on a diet, or strong hints are given that they should consider one. How horribly dull. I have much better things to think about than if I’ve lost so much weight (unlikely) that my nails are breaking, I’m sweating too much, my skin is too orange, there’s unsightly cellulite on my legs, or my breasts are sinking under my armpits. Are de-humanizing treatments like Botox ridding us mortals of our sanity or what?

There’s no better place to study the beauty of imperfection than by the pool – and my research has resulted in a few useful tips for sensible style in the sun. Point number one is that, if you don’t want your body to be seen, then cover it up – there are some fabulous sarongs, gowns, kaftans, kurtas and all manner of usefully designed garments out there. Alternatively, if you want to hide a particularly misshapen part of your anatomy, then find a book that matches your swimwear and hold it over said region. This works even better if you are lying down at the same time. (By the way this ex-City girl found the hot pink book rather tame in comparison to her own earlier exploits in the great male melting pot).

Third useful tip is to get in the water as it may enable you to hide the bits you don’t want to be seen. You can even wave other body parts around to distract attention.

As far as the question of diet is concerned, I’ve spotted that a lot of us do tend to eat for England when we're on our hols. One of the things I’ve noticed is that, if you go to a sensible place with some sunshine like Spain, you can also find some fabulous home-cooked food that won’t leave you hungry. Alternatively, if you do really want to starve yourself, might I suggest you pick the most expensive restaurant you can find, as they’re bound to have a fantastically minimalist meal that definitely won’t satisfy you. If that doesn’t work, there’s always the option of stomach stapling I suppose.

Almost from the day we are born, us girls are exposed to the competitive, media-led world of designer dressing. As far as poolside fashion is concerned, we can learn a lot from men’s sensible approach to holiday wear.

Isn’t it remarkable that you see men of all shapes and sizes looking totally at ease with themselves when so many of them are wearing almost identical pairs of rather roomy, brightly coloured trunks?

Okay, so you do get the odd cool dude who wants to stand out from the crowd – and there’s often the ubiquitous life guard and the occasional muscle man strutting around, but girls...

I’d suggest we take a leaf from men’s book - be more natural, authentic, relax and enjoy life, rather than obsessing over our bodies.

Of course, there are some females who dress purely to attract the opposite sex – but, as we well know, it usually takes little more than a spot of sunshine and a glass of wine to get men excited.

In my opinion, it makes much more sense to dress to please yourself - reflecting your own style, taste and personality through your unique and individual choice of clothing. By the way, if you’re the sort who prefers to wear something a little bit unusual and different from the mainstream, might I suggest some of the stylish kaftans at ShopCurious – like our curiously cool 1960s vintage emerald crocheted number.

Finally, if you're the type who's afraid of embarrassment, it might also be a good idea to test out your swimwear in advance - my chain store bikini turned a beautifully fluffy white towel a curious shade of lilac-pink.

It's also worth considering that being comfortable in your own skin is mainly about acceptance - after all, we all get old ... and everyone’s body is different.

Oh, and don’t forget to take a hat, some sunscreen and your sense of humour.

Will you?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Style is but a fruit tree

On Sunday, I was a guest at a rather lovely lunch on a tiny rooftop in deepest inner Hillgate Village (a curiously colourful and hidden secret part of Notting Hill). It was memorable for several reasons: chiefly, it just happened to be one of the rare sunny days that we’ve had this summer in London – no umbrellas, tarpaulin or alternative venue required.

The setting was so unusual – a cottage garden in the sky with far-reaching views across the city - plus plums, cherries, tomatoes and grape vines growing all around. We enjoyed a sumptuous array of summer salads and desserts - like homemade tangy lemon ice cream, accompanied by succulent fruits of the roof terrace. The naturally beautiful bark-edged oak dining table was handmade by the host (the architect and creator of our surroundings) and the table was set with fabulous blue and white willow pattern style place settings and adorned with an abundance of freshly made fare.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera, so I'm unable to show you how absolutely perfect it all was.

Anyway, I reckon that some fruits almost grow by themselves, if you just take the time to plant them. Most soft fruits even grow quite nicely in containers and, if well watered, can be surprisingly hardy - like the figs, shown here, that I’ve grown in a couple of pots – quite remarkable for a wet summer in London (plus a bit of good karma).

Due to the vagaries of our (un-great) British climate, the figs may not ripen properly, but can still be used to make the tastiest jam. I’d suggest you go out and find somewhere to plant them now … even the smallest space will do – and I can recommend an architect who’ll find you room where you didn’t know you had it. Why not bring a touch of the stylish English country garden into town?

Just thought I’d also mention that we’ve got this wonderful retro 1960s raspberry jam pot at ShopCurious – a collectable curiosity for fans of vintage perspex, or a curiously simple and suitably sweet gift for lovers of sensible style and old fashioned English country pastimes like jam-making.

I’d suggest you think seriously about 'growing your own' – and you can blow a raspberry to anyone who tells you it’s not better to eat organic.

Will you?