The forgotten generation of the pandemic

It’s coming up to a year soon. Friday the 13th of March 2020. That’s when it all started, when we got locked indoors with our children in Spain for 66 days. Kids had fewer rights than dogs during spring last year, because at least pups were allowed for a walk. A year next month. And the end is not in sight. Right now, we are again in a half lockdown here in Valencia, with no cafés open, no possibility to see our friends, and even the city boundaries are shut over the weekend. We have been wearing compulsory face masks outdoors, in shops and in schools, since the middle of July last year, including children as young as six.

How long does resilience last?

I am not one to start a huge debate on this blog. That’s not what my blog is about. My blog is about optimism. But right now, it’s hard to still be that upbeat person. I have watched the debates and the online mud slinging on social media, between the sheeple, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, the Qanon brigade, the obedient rule-followers, the people absolutely petrified of catching Covid and everything in between. It is a war zone. And, there is no right and wrong, really, because everyone has their own reality and circumstances. Someone whose business has gone bust because of the pandemic has a very different reality from someone who is physically not strong enough to survive a lung infection.

I have kept clear of speaking out much about this topic online, as it just upsets me to see so much hatred. Expressing any vague doubt about the strictness of the lockdowns gets you sent straight into the tin foil hat corner. But today I want to speak out. I am speaking out on behalf of the children. The forgotten generation of the pandemic. The little ones, who have just got to do what the grown-up world tells them to do, and have no say. Mask on, honey, out you go.

A very long pause in their childhood

They line up in front of their classroom each morning, with their hands stretched out in front of them, to get ‘gelled’ and disinfected. Storybooks are no longer sent home, as even the books have to be quarantined for three days. Play parks are taped off, sports lessons are cancelled. The swimming pool is closed. The kids can’t see their grandparents. No birthday parties. Children are robbed of so many things that give them joy, social connection, and (mental) health. A normal childhood, setting them up for life. Kids are spoilt rotten these days, you say? Sure, toys and games enough around the house, and sticking them in front of a screen is always an easy pacifier. But what about teaching them about life, love and common sense?

It is coming up to a year now. And I am not expecting this situation will improve much for the rest of 2021. So for the good part of nearly two years, children as young as six will have been covering their mouths, following incredibly strict rules at school, if they’ve been in school at all, and have had to constantly adapt to new situations. “Can we go to the park, mummy?” “No, sweetheart, we can’t this week.” “But we were there last week?” “Yes, I know, but we are not allowed now.” “Why mummy?” “Because of Covid.” “Is there Covid in the park, mummy?”

Rise in OCD cases

We spoke to a psychologist, who told us that her clinic is currently full of children with OCD and other anxiety disorders as a result of the pandemic. Continuous handwashing, germ paranoia, wear that mask, or you might die! Fear. Caused by an environment of scared parents, stressed teachers, passers-by keeping a ‘safe distance’. Every. Single. Day. They hear it at home, at school, on the street. They are told not to cuddle anyone, share toys, or even talk during lunch when they have their masks off for 30 minutes. Let that sink in.

Two years is a long time for a child. Even one year is an eternity. And I am no psychologist, scientist or other researcher, but I cannot help to wonder how this will have a lasting impact on the well-being and mental health of our young ones. The future generation. The ones who will have to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis as a result of lockdowns. The ones who have been told that being close to people can make you sick. The ones who, perhaps, have also lost grandparents to Covid, and now believe that everyone may die if they are not careful, distant and disinfected enough.

Built up of stress

I want to be optimistic. And I know that children are strong and adaptable. Most kids don’t appear to be depressed. Mine have shown a lot of resilience over the past year, and we certainly do our best to have a family life as normal as possible. We still try and find ways to escape into nature, or go to the beach, on weekends, enjoying a home-made picnic, and some freedom. We have to try and distract ourselves from negativity and fearmongering. But I also see, in my own children, the anxiety and frustration that has built up inside them over the past eleven months, and which may flare up in sudden, unusual outbursts of rage, over nothing. Such a lot of stress, simmering in a developing body, what does that do to a child’s health?

The hospitals are at capacity, the ICUs are full. So we have to do this for the vulnerable, the old and our public health staff. I understand. This is the general story we all know, and I am no Covid denier. I have an enormous amount of respect for nurses and doctors working their asses of to care for so many patients. And I do not want to go into a debate about how many of the dying are actually dying of Covid, or with Covid. Or the fact that nearly all people who die of (or with) Covid, are very old, and had an underlying health condition already.

But nobody is particularly concerned about how our children are doing. They just get on with it. Right?

My children have not seen their nana and grandad in Wales since Christmas 2019. Their Dutch grandparents have also been missing them for a year. We all know how fast children grow. It breaks my heart. When can we hug our grandmothers again? After a vaccine? With a mask on? Is this all worth it? Is it ‘just the way it is’ right now, a sacrifice worth making? Doesn’t nana want as many hugs as she can get in those final years of her life? And do all these rules make any difference at all to the statistics? I have yet to see some facts that stack up and are coherent across all European countries. How many Covid outbreaks are known to have started in an outdoor play park, on the swings?

But I am not looking for a fight. I am making a noise on behalf of the children. Because I want them to be heard. We read about the ‘importance of mental health of children during lockdown’, but in reality, it is never a priority. O

Every week a new set of rules, or a different restriction. We can see our friends, oh no, now we can’t. We can go to the beach, oh no, now we can’t. We can go for lunch. Oh, no we can’t. Because of Covid. “Is Coronavirus everywhere, mummy?” It is confusing for anyone, let alone a child.

On the square in front of our house, a forgotten face mask lies on a bench. A toddler waddles towards it, ready to grab it with her tiny fists. Her mother runs across and shouts in a panicky voice:”No, don’t touch! It’s Coronavirus!” She hurriedly gets her disinfectant gel out of her bag, and tells off the small child. The child looks at her with her big wild eyes. Her mummy means it.

When life gives you lemons…upcycle your skills.

Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?

From flipping burgers to West End shows

“I always liked making things, being creative,” Ryan says, as we sit down in his big rough and ready workshop in the area of Cabanyal, near the beach. “I actually ended up as a set builder in the theatre world totally by accident. I was flipping burgers at an event, and got annoyed by stuff strewn on the floor of the van. So I just built some shelving to tidy it up. Turned out the owners of the burger place were West End actors. They were impressed by my carpentry and introduced me into the theatre world in London. That was the start of a 10-year career. I since worked as a set builder for many West End shows, major TV/film productions and events, including the London Fashion Week and the X Factor. It’s been a fascinating job.”

Upcycling business Valencia

“In 2019 I fancied a change though, and with set builders from the UK having a good reputation across Europe, I managed to secure some big jobs in Spain and Italy for 2020. So I was looking forward to continuing my trade, but now based in Valencia. Unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the way.”

“I was faced with a sudden harsh reality of sitting at home, in Spain, with no work, a loss of identity and feeling quite depressed as a result, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no work for any of us in the industry. I heard of colleagues back in London being contracted to build coffins instead. It was grim. It’s only been a few weeks or so that I am beginning to pick up the pieces.”

Upcycling business Valencia

Spice racks and bedside tables

This Autumn, Ryan decided to go back to his trusted carpentry skills and start making things for fun. Usable stuff for the home, made from scrap wood, which he finds in the street. First just some shelves, but people like his work, and he has already been commissioned to make a set of bedside tables. He is now making coffee tables, spice and wine racks, bookshelves and other unique pieces of furniture, from his Cabanyal workshop. In a corner of the large brick, industrial looking space, stand a number of cool looking pieces of furniture, made out of recycled wood. One of them a coffee table made from slats, on top of an old metal single bed frame.

Upcycling business Valencia

Upcycling old wood and telling its story

“It feels good repurposing old wood, it balances things out for me.”, he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how wasteful the set building industry is. I once worked as a set builder at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and remember being horrified by the sight of four articulated lorries stuffed full of wood that had been used for the food stalls. None of the material could be reused, and was taken straight to the dump, only because it was covered in some food or oil. There are companies who take stuff away for recycling, but half the time it just ends up in the incinerator.”

Ryan finds usable wood and other materials left next to bins and in skips in Valencia, on the streets, anywhere, and keeps it from going to landfill. He takes stuff apart, cleans it, cuts it to size, sands it down, finishes it, and turns it into beautiful designs. “It’s fun creating things. I am a big fan of history and love the fact that something has a past. I try and leave the patina, so you still see some of that history in the wood.” He is slowly expanding his collection, trying to find out what people need and like, and then making it. An online shop is in the making too.

Ryan decided to name his new venture Made in Valencia. But perhaps it should be called re-Made in Valencia. After all, it’s not just the wood that’s been given a second chance.

You can find Ryan’s upcycling business in Valencia currently on Facebook.
His set building work can be found on his website.

Are you affected as a creative by the covid crisis? Want to get inspired and connect with other creative businesses? Join my free community on Facebook, for marketing tips and business advice.

From grandma’s stuffy cupboard to statement designer piece. Meet Roc.

Mid-century modern furniture is often so beautiful and timeless, that it needs very little more than a clean and a polish. Sleek lines, minimalist looks and striking features, even after so many decades, those Scandinavian style sideboards, coffee tables and armchairs from the 1950s and 60s still look gorgeous. But some pieces become even better when someone with a good eye gets their hands on them. Caroline George of Roc Studio in Edinburgh, is one of those people. Her signature style includes strong geometric patterns to enhance the shape of the furniture. Today I am interviewing Caroline to find out more about her creative business.

Caroline, tell us more about yourself! What is your business and what do you offer?

I am the founder of Roc Studio and I bring unloved pieces of furniture back to life with my surface pattern designs. I source furniture myself, often mid-century classics like G-plan or Ercol, or customers can bring in their own pieces for a contemporary update. My business is in Edinburgh, which is also my home, where I live with my husband and two children.

What made you want to start this type of business?

I started my own business upcycling furniture already 11 years ago. First it was called Trash furniture, but it has since evolved into Roc. My degree is originally in fashion and textiles, but after working fashion for a bit I fell into interiors. I worked as a visual merchandiser at Habitat which fuelled my love for all things decor. After that I worked in property, staging and designing show homes for an upmarket developer. In 2009, I decided to turn my passion for vintage furniture into a business and I still love it. I am passionate about using what we have, being sustainable and creating an eclectic home and this is very much in the spirit of Roc as well.

What do you love most about your work?

The freedom of working for yourself is great, I kind of make it up as I go along, but it means I can pick my kids up from school and be there for them. It is not always easy juggling everything, but I wouldn’t change it.

How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process with them?

Most of the pieces I work on are a bit battered and in need of some TLC. A client might come to me with a piece of furniture or sometimes I already have a piece in my workshop, which needs an update. I don’t like to overdo the furniture and am quite minimalist in a way. I tend to work with the lines of the furniture, so if it has round handles for instance, then the design might feature circles. I always try and use colours for my designs that really bring out the beautiful warm tones in the Mid-century teak wood. Often, the client will also have an idea of the designs they like, a colour scheme in the room it sits in, or sometimes it’s just a piece of art work that they like that I can take some inspiration from.

It is quite a process from start to finish and can take many weeks. It’s not just a lick of paint and a few new drawer knobs. Usually I strip the piece of all the old varnish and if anything needs fixed then that gets done too. The doors might come off for painting, or the drawers stripped for new felt. There is always more work than you think, but the end result always makes me happy and my customers, which is the most important thing.

How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business?

At first, it was all such a shock for everyone. But I tried to keep going and then suspected I had the virus, which put me out of action for a couple of months, as I was very ill. I recovered though and still had a couple of commissions to do, so I have just continued working. Luckily my clients keep asking for furniture, so I am still surviving! I just need to keep my fingers crossed that it continues into 2021, but I stay positive.

upcycling business uk

How do customers find you, and what are your business challenges?

During lockdown, I built my new website, and I was really proud of myself that I got it done. I have an online shop on there now too, which is a new thing for me, and something I would like to build on next year. I am on all the usual social media channels, and I am trying to get better at PR and putting myself out there! Time is also always an issue. There’s never enough of it to fit everything in, so that is definitely an ongoing challenge for me. And knowing my value. Creatives are notorious for undercharging and over delivering!

What is the next step for Roc?

My goal is a bigger workshop next year with space to make my life easier. I would also like to take a holiday, haha! And I have been saying it for a long time now, but I would love to design some new products that are not quite as big as the furniture. And although most of my clients are in the UK, and especially in Edinburgh and London, I recently shipped furniture to the Netherlands, and I am now looking into shipping to Italy.

You may spot some Roc pieces where you are soon. If you are interested in seeing more of Caroline’s designs, have a look at the Roc website.


The best Christmas gifts for a calm and stress-free new year

OK, 2020 can go in the bin. Out with it. Let’s start again. Most people will agree that this year was just weird, and gave most of us an unusual amount of stress and anxiety. We don’t know yet if the first half of 2021 is going to be any different, but we can prepare ourselves better, for sure.

Here are my Christmas gift suggestions for a calmer, smoother and happier New Year. For your loved ones, or as gifts just for you. Because, WELL DONE for getting through it all! You are an amazing human being.


For a calmer mind

Beautiful notebooks

I love notebooks. I have about four on the go right now. Do I love a notebook as a gift? You bet! But what do you do with all of these scribbles when done with them? This Etsy Seller has the perfect idea: plant them! This notebook is size A6, £6 and 100% compostable. The cover has been embedded with five varieties of native British wildflowers, all classified as ‘plants for pollinators’ by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Journaling never felt so good. Shop for more handmade notebooks on Etsy.

Scented candles and essential oils

Smell can have such a calming effect on the mind. I love burning a scented candle or some incense. Candles are always a great gift at Christmas, or at anytime. Instead of buying mass-produced candles from the supermarket of high street store, which are often full of chemicals, support a crafter and order some natural, handmade ones. Shop for natural, handmade candles on Etsy.

A quality online yoga course

Once you got those candles burning, why not add a high quality online yoga course to the gift? Sure, you can find all kinds of free yoga on Youtube these days, but why not take the stress out of searching and buy a full course that you know is good? I can recommend Yoga by Jennison, a California girl living in Valencia, who offers a fabulous, healing yoga experience online and offline (she kept many of us sane and fit throughout lockdown!). Check out her online yoga courses.

Organic CBD oil

CBD oil has become a popular natural go-to remedy for providing relief for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also used to promote sleep. No more stress and insomnia in 2021 please! Part of CBD’s popularity is that consumers can reap health benefits from the cannabis plant without the high you would experience from smoking the stuff. So it’s totally safe, even for granny. Nordic Oil is a Spanish company that ships across Europe within 7 days.

eco-friendly christmas gifts

For a calm home office

Working from home is not going anywhere next year (excuse the pun), so items for the home office make popular Christmas gifts for him and her. Here’s a few ideas.

The perfect weekly planner for a clear head

I bought this sturdy A4 size weekly planner for myself recently and it is great. You don’t have to print it out like many others on Etsy, it comes ready in the post and is backed with cardboard. You can create a clear layout of your tasks for the week, while it also leaves space for private appointments and other commitments. The weekly planner costs £9.00, a great Christmas gift for 2020 and you’ll sure make someone (or yourself) very happy. For more options (or US based, if you need something closer to home), check out these planners on Etsy too.

christmas gifts 2020 etsy

A wooden laptop stand

With everyone working from home this year, sore shoulders, arms and wrists are on the rise. Working long hours on a laptop is not ideal health wise and investing in a laptop stand to raise the screen is important. With a separate screen and mouse your work station becomes a lot more ergonomic. Find this one and other gorgeous handmade natural wooden laptop stands on Etsy. They sure make a good and thoughtful Christmas gift.

eco friendly christmas gift

Gifts to keep healthy

If we’ve learned anything this year, is that we need to look after our immune system the best we can. That means eating healthily, exercising more and generally doing more wholesome stuff than scrolling down your Facebook feed and getting all worked up about the state of the world. If we keep fit and healthy, we have little to fear from any virus.

Organic gardening starter kit

Even if you only have a balcony, you can start a little garden. Use pots, baskets, trays and start growing your own herbs, vegetables, salad leafs and more. It’s nurturing for the soul and nourishing for your body. This organic gardening kit by small UK based business Wyld Bank contains: 78 open-pollinated seeds, a ‘How to Guide’ on growing and seed saving, hemp twine, six pretty muslin seed bags, notebook and pencil, six plant labels and a mini illustration of the picture on the cottage garden box. Oh, and apparently also a little surprise on opening. At £15.00 this sounds like a great Christmas gift to me.

eco friendly christmas gift

Gifts for better sleep

Sleep is super important for healing, moods, concentration and keeping a strong immune system. Let’s invest in great sleep this coming year, starting with the best pillow. And pillows are no longer just reserved for your head; neck pillows, knee supports, front sleeping pillows and body pillows, there are many pillows to help you find the most comfortable position to rest in. Check out Kally Sleep, for the best solutions for getting quality sleep.

Smoothie bowls

And when you get up…time for a wholesome, healthy breakfast in some beautiful bowls made of coconut shells. Each of these coconut bowls are crafted from a real coconut shell. They are 100% natural, safe, ecological, and environmentally friendly. Find more coconut bowl sets on Etsy.

eco-friendly christmas gifts

Eco-friendly Yoga wear

Support a small UK business and buy your beloved yogi a natural rubber yoga mat, free from PVC. Make it into a beautiful gift set and add some matching eco-friendly yoga wear, in material made from recycled plastic bottles. Super luxurious soft fabric, blended with spandex. High-waisted fit for maximum comfort. Check out the yoga wear collection from Planet Warrior.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products that I love and would use myself also. You can read my full affiliate disclosure in my privacy policy.

How to update a vintage armchair – before and afters

So you walk into a charity shop or second hand store or you inherit an old chair from your grandmother and have grand visions of it looking totally cool in a new piece of fabric. But it can be a bit daunting, the prospect of doing it yourself – if you even have the skills – or finding someone to do it for you. What fabric is suitable and what will look nice? And what to choose so you will still like it in a few years time, rather than a quick funky makeover that you might only like for a little while?

before and after lloyd loom chair
A vintage Lloyd Loom chair I transformed for a customer, using Farrow and Ball paint and a gorgeous piece of purple and grey patterned fabric.
 

I have revamped a number of chairs for customers and to sell in the shop. In some cases I did it totally myself (the more straight forward type of seat) or I would come up with the design and hand the actual job over to a professional upholsterer. It is amazing to see a smelly and tatty old chair being transformed into a fabulously stylish piece. My advice? Go for it. There are just a few things to keep in mind.

Pros and cons of doing upholstery yourself

There are pros and cons for both tackling a project like this yourself or getting someone else to do it. If you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, then it might be worth-wile learning how to do it yourself. It will be a fantastic achievement and something to be really proud of. On the other hand, especially when you have little patience, some things are better left to people who make a great job of it and spend that bit extra to get the result you are after. After all, ask yourself how much you would spend on a new chair in a high street store. Probably not even of the solid quality of your old vintage find.

upholstered vintage wing back chair

For a more complicated vintage wing back chair I selected the fabric and designed the new look and asked a professional to reupholster it for me. I painted the feet in a graphite chalk paint to match the fabric.

The cost of professional upholstery

People are sometimes surprised by the cost of getting a chair reupholstered. Yes, it probably costs as much as buying a new chair, unless you simply go for slip covers and do a quick makeover. It is a mistake to think that just by buying a second-hand chair that needs new covers, you are going to save lots of money. Apart from the amount of time and material it takes to bring a chair back to life, it’s not about saving money really. It should be regarded as a different, far more interesting and exciting option. Plus you are saving something from being thrown away by giving it a new lease of life. How cool is that?

Here’s a quick comparison of doing it yourself versus handing the job over to someone else:

Doing it yourself:

  • Pros: you will be learning/practising new skills, potentially saving some money, get a feeling of great achievement and have a fab creative project to work on.
  • Cons: it will probably take you a long time to do, it is quite technical when trying to tackle a big chair such as a wing back. You may not get the professional looking result you were aiming for.

Paying a professional:

  • Pros: they know what they are doing, using the right materials (fire retardant etc) and make your chair look amazing. They have the knowledge and expertise to advice on fabrics. They work a lot faster than you!
  • Cons: it is more costly than doing it yourself.

reupholstered rocking chair
An old rocking chair I revamped using Ikea fabric, which is now living in the Dell of Abernethy holiday accommodation in the Cairngorms!

Choosing fabric for upholstery projects

When choosing fabric for an a chair or sofa, make sure it is suitable for upholstery. For smaller seats such as kitchen chairs it is OK to use curtain material or fabric you would use for making cushions, but for the bigger chairs it needs to be suitable for upholstery and fire retardant. If in doubt, just ask a specialist fabric retailer.

There are of course millions of fabrics to choose from and it is totally up to you whether you want to go wild and patterned or choose a more classic and timeless fabric such as plain wool. I love the furnishing fabrics at Ikea. They are fun and inexpensive and most are suitable for (light) upholstery. Ideal for a quick makeover of kitchen chairs or box cushion seats. John Lewis also has some great fabrics, ranging from around £11 per meter for some of their printed cottons to well over £50 per meter for a quality wool. Keep in mind that for a wing back chair you will probably need around six meters of fabric, so the fancier your material, the more costly your project.

scion axis tangerine fabric
I love the fabrics by Scion (Harlequin), which come in fabulous graphic patterns. This is Scion Axis Tangerine.

Other sources for finding fabric I have used are good old eBay (you can often find some good value remnants of wool, linen and other quality materials) and Fabric Rehab, a great website with beautiful patterned fabrics, which you will love if you like the Scandi look like me. Always try and get a sample if you can when buying online, to prevent getting a roll of fabric that is not what you were after.

Webbing and foam

Mid century armchairs, including those made by Ercol, often have rubber Pirelli webbing rather than traditional webbing, which is fairly easy to replace, using the metal clips that come with it. The rubber straps are quite costly, so make sure you measure up how much you need before ordering. Pirelli webbing can be found on eBay or online shops specialised in upholstery. Furniture from the 1950s and 60s also often has foam blocks inside the seats (as supposed to horsehair filling used in traditional, antique furniture), so this is another thing that is pretty straight forward to replace. You can get foam in various thicknesses and density. For an armchair seat I usually buy a 4″ thick block, for a kitchen chair 1″ or 1.5″ is often enough. A useful website to buy foam from I find is Easyfoam.

Pirelli webbing mid century furniture project
Two Pirelli webbing projects I tackled myself: a small sofa and an armchair


Greaves and Thomas armchair
 
 

Paint or strip wooden seat frames?

 
Then there is the question of what to do with the woodwork. Strip it, paint it, leave it the way it is? I stripped a chair once (see picture below) and it was a LOT of work. I was super pleased with the result, yes, but it is not something I would want to tackle every week. Still, much better than the horrible shiny mahogany stain it had before. Painting is an option if you really don’t like the look of the wooden frame, but if it is a nice oak or teak then it is best to just give it a good oil or wax and polish and it will look just fine. (Please don’t ever ‘Annie Sloan‘ a mid century piece!)
 
before and after mid century chair
A £12 vintage find at an auction, stripped bare to a beautiful light wood, oiled and reupholstered in a black Marimekko fabric.
 
Conclusion? A revamped vintage chair is money and time well spent. A chair with a story to tell beats any mass produced seat any day. Whether you do it yourself or ask a professional to do it for you, the choice is yours. You will have a unique statement chair for years to come, that’s for sure.

Get beautiful slip covers for your Ikea furniture

If you fancy a makeover of an old chair you bought from Ikea, you may want to check out Rockin Cushions, a small US based business, designing and making lovely slip covers for many popular Ikea chairs and sofas.

Interview with Rockin Cushions: cool covers for Ikea chairs

As a big fan of sustainable design, reducing landfill and creative upcycling, I was excited to recently speak to Michelle from Rockin Cushions, in Los Angeles. Michelle contacted me to collaborate, and I was very keen to feature her on my blog. Her creative buzz, amazing ideas and energy are contagious. I asked her about her business and plans for the future. Slip cover vending machines at Ikea, being one of them! Let’s hear more about her work.

Beautiful solutions for ‘disposable’ furniture

Michelle, tell us about your business. What is it you make?

I design and manufacture slip covers for IKEA furniture. The fabrics I choose focus on current decor trends, such as Scandinavian, Farmhouse, Boho Chic, etc. We fill the gap between buying a new upholstered piece of furniture and the current IKEA cover offerings. We hope that a new slip cover will save your “disposable” piece of furniture ending up in landfill. I feel strongly about reducing waste and with my covers I aim to offer people a very easy and affordable way to stay current without a big financial commitment.

new covers for ikea furniture

What is your background? Have you always been creative?

My parents immigrated to Australia from South Africa when I was a year old. My dad was a self-taught leather craftsman. I was taught to sew as a child and worked in our family business, which grew into a small manufacturing company in Australia. I studied graphic design and fine arts at University, but was also acting in commercials on the side, and pretty soon the acting became much more interesting. I decided to move to LA to pursue my acting career shortly thereafter.

The old rocking chair that sparked my business

What made you start your Ikea slip cover business?

After moving to LA, I encountered the Fashion District in downtown, and my passion for creating was reignited. There are so many people creating, making, sewing and producing there. It is really inspiring. At one point I was given a traditional rocking chair as a gift and decided to make a cushion for it, because I couldn’t find anything I liked. I put my design on Etsy and people really responded positively. The seed was planted. I then started getting a lot of requests for IKEA slip covers, and slowly things grew from there. Eventually about 5 years ago, I decided to ditch the acting and run my business full time.

What do you love most about your work?

I really love to source new fabrics and I definitely have a need to spend a few hours a week creating something. I just started my craft channel on Youtube, which I’m really enjoying. I also love receiving photos from my customers who are really happy with their purchase. That just makes my day.

How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process?

The IKEA pieces I choose to work with are simply the most popular ones. It’s a little tricky taking a chance on something new because you don’t know if it will stay in the catalogue for very long. And it costs a lot of money to create the covers in all the different fabrics, so that’s why I stay safe with the furniture that has been around for decades, such as the Poang and Ektorp sofas. The process is pretty simple – I either copy the original slip cover, or create a new design. My Poang covers for instance has been modified from the original so that it fits all the different Poang cushions universally. After we design the covers, it’s just a matter of getting it into production with all the fabrics we offer.

2020 has been a crazy, but incredible year for business

How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business? Did you have to adapt or work differently?

This year has actually been the most incredible year for me. In April, I made some face masks for healthcare workers and set up a FB donation page. I was interviewed on a local morning show and not only did we raise our donation target, we sold over 30,000 masks in a month. It was the most crazy experience! I was also able to get business funding and some grants, which had been impossible before.

And even though sales have been slower than normal for the slip covers, I’ve been able to focus on my Youtube channel and start a subscription box service, with six (gift) products that have been 100% upcycled from our waste materials, such as table / kitchenware, home decor items, fashion accessories and bags. I really believe there is more opportunity than ever right now for an entrepreneur.

How do you reach your audience, what do you do to promote yourself?

I have a Shopify store and we do email marketing. We’re also on the socials – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube and we’re about to start live streaming tutorials on Twitch. Content creating is a lot of work, but it’s the new normal for every business right now.

What is your biggest challenge in your business?

Right now I’m targeting the commercial market, such as “IKEA for Business” customers, so finding the right sales people is difficult. I’m not technically in the furniture industry, so I’m working on making those connections. Also cash flow is always a huge challenge. Staying on top of bills etc when times are slow is tough.

What is your next step in your business? Are you looking for world domination?

Lol, yes and no! I would love my brand to live alongside IKEA, I dream of being able to make a significant difference in reducing landfill. I have a crazy idea of having Rockin Cushions vending machines in the IKEA checkout /warehouse section! Designing covers for furniture rental companies to help keep their products in use for longer, is also something I’d love to be doing. And then I have another dream of hosting a DIY/ home makeover show because it would be so fun! But, at the end of the day, I really just want to have a financially secure future and time to do things I love.

Rockin Cushions is based in LA, United States. They also ship internationally, mostly to the UK, Europe, Australia. They support the non-profit DAYS FOR GIRLS by donating fabric and participating in sewing workshops in LA to produce menstrual kits to girls in developing countries, many of whom would otherwise not be able to attend school.

www.rockincushions.com

How to start earning money online as a newbie

A lot of us have been hit by the 2020 crisis. The pandemic made many lose their jobs and thousands of employees are still on furlough, not knowing when they can go back. As a freelance content writer I too lost big clients this year and suddenly my income was cut in half. I had to think hard and really up my game online, or else it would hardly be worth continuing. I have now started increasing my income, just by using some of the tips below – and I am exploring others too. As I know many of you are in the same boat right now, I am sharing some ideas to maybe inspire you to start your own online business and become your own boss. Being your own boss is ace, I fully recommend it!

Do you believe earning money online is not for you? You can do this too, I promise. Here is how you can start your own online side hustle or business, even if you have never done this before. You could take your job everywhere, if you work online. Imagine the freedom!

earn money online fast

What skills or expertise could you start monetising?

You may have done a boring office job for the past ten years, but everyone has skills that they could pass on in an e-course, an e-book or a blog. Think outside the box. Be creative. You may know exactly how to organise your week, house, and plan meals. Do you know how many women feel overwhelmed by clutter? Perhaps you are an absolute star at sewing, DIY or money management.

And don’t think that just because you’ve been a school teacher, you could only ever stand in front of a classroom. You will have built up valuable expertise, and perhaps have developed your own unique way of teaching kids to read or do maths. Don’t keep this to yourself. We want to hear about it!

There is space for everyone online

If you could share your insider knowledge or are very passionate about something, there sure will be a captive audience out there. “Oh, but there are so many others already doing this“, I hear you say, “Why on earth would anyone want to buy my course, e-book or read my website?” Don’t worry, there is space for all of us. The world is your oyster. And your knowledge is worth sharing.

Try and make a list of all the things you care about, know about or are very interested in. Business coaching, healthcare, party planning, cake decorating, hiking routes, mindfulness, fitness regimes, vegan living, upcycling. Anything. You will quickly discover topics that may be suitable to turn into a way of earning money online.

Earn money online fast

Sell beautiful e-books with Designrr

I always thought you had to be a ‘proper’ author to publish a book, any book, also an e-book. Turns out it is easier than ever to make a professional looking e-book. And you can earn money online by selling them. Designrr is one of those online software programmes that lets you create professional looking e-books from your existing blog posts, or you can design a book from scratch.

Making an e-book is a great way to pass on your specific knowledge to a worldwide audience. The more ‘niche’ the better. If people are searching for something online, your e-book will come up, if you use the right keywords. Do you know lots about fermenting vegetables and making kombucha? There is bound to be an international audience out there, searching for this on Google. Am I giving you ideas yet?

With Designrr you can simply pick a template, insert stock photos from their editor, or upload your own, and start writing. Check out their special offer of $27 for lifetime access to the standard system. Pay a bit more for the $97 pro package and you’ll get additional features, including publishing straight onto Amazon Kindle and other book selling platforms.


Offer your freelance skills on Fiverr

A natural result of the pandemic lockdown has been that many people worldwide are spending a lot more time online. New online stores and businesses are popping up all the time. This also means that entrepreneurs need blog content, help with IT stuff, accounting, videos, social media and marketing advice, graphic design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), sound engineering, you name it.

If you happen to have those skills, or are willing to learn, you can easily start finding clients on platforms like Fiverr or Upwork. Just register, create a good-looking profile, show off your experience or portfolio, and start attracting clients. I have recently got new long-term paying clients just by promoting myself on these sites. You can also find freelancers to help you build your own business of course.

Earn money online quickly
Start earning money online, wherever you are.

Record audio courses on Listenable

Online courses are a big winner this year and not likely to leave the stage soon. What better way than learning about something new from the comfort of your own home? Got a skill? Start teaching online! If you get nervous about videos, like me, then creating educational podcasts may be a more comfortable idea. Just voice, no face! I discovered Listenable recently, and they offer bite-size audio lessons of about 5 minutes each, in a series of up to 10 lessons in total. You could do that! Record 10 lessons (you could even record them on your mobile phone!) about something you are passionate about, and start getting paid for it. Browse their audio courses to get an idea of topics.

If you are interested in a Listenable subscription to benefit from the hundreds of audio courses yourself, I am able to offer you an exclusive 30% readers discount code on the annual Listenable membership. 30% DISCOUNT CODE: ninaeggens


earn online money fast
Working online means you can be a true digital nomad. Take your work to the beach!

Create an online course with Teachable

If you are comfortable creating videos and tutorials yourself, you may want to look at Teachable as a way to earn money online. Many artists and makers now offer online courses to earn additional income. On Teachable, like with the audio courses, courses range from business and marketing techniques to making sourdough bread and everything in between. People search for lots of weird and wonderful topics and you can offer them just what they need. Prices start at $29 for the Basic plan, so you can start creating your course.

earn money online fast

Affiliate marketing

You could also start a blog, and fill it with informative, useful articles about a certain topic, and include affiliate links to relevant products or services. A bit like what I am doing right now in this blog post: I tell you about the different platforms you could explore to make money online, and if you decide to click on one of the links and pay for those services on the partner’s website, I receive a commission.

Earn money while you sleep

Yeah, right, earning money while you sleep sounds way too good to be true. Well, it’s not a complete lie! Affiliate marketing can be very lucrative, but only if you choose a partner company that offers a high commission rate and you make sure you use the right keywords in your copy so you get found online. It takes time to put it all together and to fill your website with quality content. You may also need to pay for a domain name, a website and payment features. But once your site is attracting plenty of traffic, you can literally take a step back and receive your passive income while you are spending time on the beach. Sounds good, right?

Blogs about beard oil and baby clothes

Other than promoting professional online services, like I am doing in this blog post, you could promote physical products to your niche audience too. Perhaps you have a blog about crafts. Then you can choose to be an affiliate for craft products. Or cooking equipment. Travel items. Beard oil. Baby clothes. Etc. Etc. Etsy, Amazon and Ebay are big platforms you could become an affiliate for and you can pick and choose products you love. If you have a blog with enough quality content, you can also apply to become an affiliate through Awin, which allows you to join hundreds of specific well-known brands. That way you can fully tailor-make what you want to promote, what you like promoting and what suits your niche business. Try it! What have you got to lose?

Need help with a website or content?

If you are taking the plunge to build your own online business, don’t hesitate to contact me if you need well written SEO content, blog articles or product descriptions. You can contact me here on the Nina’s Apartment blog with questions or have a look at my Fiverr profile.

Earn money online fast

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products that I love and would use myself also. You can read my full affiliate disclosure in my privacy policy.

Moving to Spain? These are the best neighbourhoods in Valencia

Are you thinking of moving to Spain, and trying to find out which place is best? I remember being in that exact same position. Googling myself silly every night, trying to consume as much information as possible to see if it’s all is worth the risk and stress. Moving to Spain is a big adventure, for sure! But so worth it. And totally doable. Whatever your reason for moving to Valencia, Spain, it is an exciting plan. We took the leap in 2018, and we haven’t regretted it. Is Valencia a nice place to live, you ask? It is a wonderful place to live. The climate, the beautiful city, the beach and the mountains inland, Valencia offers it all.

Skip the blog posts, save time: find all the answers in my two handy e-books on moving to Valencia, for families and expats without children.

E-book Moving to Valencia, Spain with children. 50-page guide on the Spanish school system, what to consider, lists of good schools in Valencia, family-friendly neighbourhoods and what to expect in the first year. 15.95 + vat

Your Guide to Moving to Valencia Spain. For when you are looking for guidance and reassurance, but don’t need the schools part. 32 pages of info on life in Valencia, great neighbourhoods and out-of-town areas for housing, advice on healthcare, finding work, cost of living, and making friends. (2021). 9.95 +vat


Moving to Valencia with kids? Nina’s e-book is a good place to start. It answered quite a few questions I had (mainly about schools) and is full of really great tips to make the transition to another country, easier. Also, it’s full of wise advice and Nina is good at managing expectations. Moving to a new country is not easy so I can relate to the gentle warning words of “taking it easy” and being kind to yourself when you first get there. All the main subjects of concern (schools, bank accounts, healthcare etc.) are covered. Nina’s book is as reassuring as it is exciting! Can’t wait to start our own adventure! – Cecile M, London


Put your mind at rest, and feel better prepared.

> Nearly 50 pages of useful tips about schools, neighbourhoods, healthcare and what to expect, when moving to Valencia with children. Including a list of international schools and other schools worth checking out.

My brand-new E-book is an excellent place to start, to make you feel a little less insecure and more ready to make your dream reality. As a mother of two young children, who’s gone through the process, I am sharing my knowledge and first-hand experience as an expat in Valencia. Because really, it all seems impossible….until it’s done!

Price: 15.95 ex vat

living in valencia spain
The beautiful, iconic City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

What neighbourhoods are good in Valencia, Spain?

Where is good for families to live in Spain? Is Valencia a good place for families? Where do families live in Valencia? I receive a lot of emails from people who are thinking of moving to Valencia from the US, or the UK, or elsewhere, and are full of questions. Many come as a family with children, so there are obviously a lot of concerns to do with schools and family-friendly neighbourhoods in Valencia and its suburbs. After having lived here now for more than 3 years, I have a pretty good idea of what would work best for new arrivals, even if you have never been to Valencia before.

List your criteria

The biggest question is usually: which neighbourhoods in Valencia are good for families and expats? First: Valencia is a very safe city. It is the third largest city of Spain, with about 800.000 inhabitants in the city itself, but you will quickly know your way around and feel right at home. So no neighbourhood is awful, but there are some that are more attractive than others. And of course, it is very personal. If you come from a big house in the suburbs, then you may find it unappealing to move into a shoebox city flat, and likewise, a city dweller may not like the idea of living in an out-of-town village. Think about what your criteria are as a family in terms of living space. Then compare them to the various neighbourhoods to get a better idea of what would be a good match.

Which neighbourhoods in Valencia Spain have good schools?

Another question I get asked all the time: Where should we live to find a good school for our children? What is Spain’s education system like? I explain all of this in my e-book Moving to Valencia, Spain with Children. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to find a good school and neighbourhood in Valencia:

  • You can’t apply for a public or semi-private school if you have no address
  • You can of course select a school and try and find a home nearby
  • It is common for schools to be full. The ayuntamiento or district council, will then have to find you an alternative school closest to your address
  • It is advisable to visit schools in advance to get an idea. Schools are very personal and what suits one expat, doesn’t suit another.
  • It is very common to change schools here in Spain, so don’t worry if you change your mind after a year
  • It is a good idea to rent an Airbnb for a month on arrival and explore neighbourhoods and schools while you are here
  • Official school applications always happen in May, but you can get in throughout the year if there is a place
  • Most out-of-town private and semi-private schools have bus transport arranged from the city centre

Turia park: your 9 km city garden

The 9 km riverbed that was developed in the 1980s as a green park surrounding the city centre, is one of the best features of Valencia. If you base yourself near to it, you’ll always have access to a fantastic outdoor space for your daily exercise, play park visits and picnics with friends.

living in valencia spain
Our green lung: Turia park

Psst…moving to Valencia, Spain, but not interested in lots of info about schools? I have another guide!

Have a look at my e-book: Your Guide to Moving to Valencia, for people who don’t need the info about schools. 30 pages of info about neighbourhoods, life as an expat, healthcare, finding friends, finding work (and costs involved to be self-employed).


valencia areas to avoid
Photo by Joan Costa on Pexels.com

The list of different neighbourhoods of Valencia, Spain.

Good city centre neighbourhoods in Valencia

Russafa
Often called the hipster neighbourhood of Valencia, Russafa (or Ruzafa, in the Valencian spelling), is a lively area, just south of the historic centre.

El Carmen
If you want to live amongst pretty old buildings, ancient towers and windy old streets, and hear the cathedral bells, El Carmen is the place to be.

Ensanche
The posh brother of Russafa, Ensanche lies right beside it, and centers around the beautiful market building of Mercado de Colon.

Cabanyal
The now pretty much gentrified old fishing village, right on the beach, is characterized by its colourful tiled facades and little bars in side streets.

Arts and Sciences
If you prefer bright, modern and comfortable over characterful and old, you may want to look at the areas around the City of Arts and Sciences.

living in valencia spain
Photo by Milan Chudoba on Pexels.com

Which towns and suburbs around Valencia are good for families?

Now this will make the whole search area a lot bigger of course. Many expats choose to live in the suburbs or towns within a 30-minute drive of the city, and many go north because of where schools are located. International and private schools in Valencia are more easily accessible if you live in these areas, although most schools provide bus transport from the city centre as well.

Some of the areas that are popular are La Eliana, Godella/Rocafort/Campolivar, La Canyada, Patacona, Betera, and Monasterios.

You can read more about the best neighbourhoods and suburbs in the my e-books Moving to Valencia, Spain with children, and your guide to moving to valencia, spain

Another good bit of advice? Order a large map, stick it on the wall and pin your short list areas on it. Knowing the map will make you feel you know the area, before you have even moved here.

Good luck!

Create the perfect home office space with these desk accessories

With the crazy times we live in right now comes a little perk for many: working from home is now widely accepted and often required. Most people would prefer to not be in the office five days a week anyway and find themselves being much more efficient working from home. An office at home also means that you can design it yourself, to your needs and taste, which makes it even more pleasant and relaxed. If working from home is something you’ll be doing in the long run, it’s a good idea to invest in some durable, useful items to make your life easier and work space more professional. No more working on the sofa!

For this post I have done some browsing for you on Etsy and made a selection of beautiful and useful accessories for your desk, to create the perfect home office space.

All products listed are made from sustainable materials, including wood, paper and metal.


Prevent RSI with an ergonomic laptop stand

Many of us work on laptops, which makes working flexible. But having to work from home on a laptop can make those hands and wrists pretty sore after a while. Let’s prevent RSI and invest in a good ergonomic laptop stand, at the correct height.

Combine it with a keyboard and turn your laptop into a desktop when working from home. This beautiful minimalist design in oak and steel is from Etsy seller Oakywood gets very good reviews and costs £123. It reduces your eye and neck strain, rises your laptop about 6 inches (16 cm) to an ergonomic position at an eye level.


Desk organizers for tablets, pens and coffee cups

No one likes starting their working day at a desk full of loose stuff. Stationary, iPads, notebooks, paper clips, they all need a home! Invest in a good-looking desk organizer and you get rid of that problem.

This stationary organizer below is not only beautiful, minimalist and made of beech wood, it also features slots for your tablet and phone. Handy for watching tutorials or videos or having a quick hands-free call on screen. Above all, it keeps your pencils, pens, keys, business cards and desk accessories from going astray.

Keep your desk tidy with this wooden desk organizer. Dimensions: W 25 cm x D 16 cm x H 2.2 cm. £35

This organizer below is another nice wooden item, which even has a cup holder built in. Because we’ve all had that coffee spilled over the keyboard…

Another great wooden desk organizer to keep your little stuff from spreading across the desk. EasyWoodShop

Sort your life out with a good daily planner

Hands up, who likes a good list? I enjoy a bullet journal too. Combine the two and you’ll get a daily desk planner pad. With this handy A5 daily planner from the Etsy seller InkyIntheWild you can really start sorting your life out.

The motivational desk pad comes with 100 easy-tear pages and a cardboard backing. Fill out the planner, organize your thoughts and then simply tear off the pages and stick them on your wall, memo board, fridge or fold and pop in your bag. You can order the daily work planner on its own, but you may be tempted to go for the mega pack (gosh, I need that), which includes a daily, a weekly and a handy meal planner. I am already feeling organized just looking at it!

best desk organizer
I am so going to order this. The Mega bundle from Etsy seller InkyIntheWild. £22 for the pack of three planner pads

Invest in some fancy book ends

Working from home undoubtedly means more files, notebooks and documents that need a shelf. Don’t shove them in a pile in the corner of your desk, or worse, on the floor. Give these files a proper home. Some fancy book stands or document holders will make your home office look a lot more professional and organized. I love these metal honeycomb book ends, made by seller Geomodus.

ideal desk organizer
Don’t these book ends look cool? Find them over at Etsy seller Geomodus for just under £14

Make your office look neat with a desktop cable organizer

Laptop cables, USB cables, keyboard cables, headphone cables; it’s like bloomin’ spaghetti junction on your desk these days! Time to sort that mess out. To stick with the wood theme: I discovered this beautiful desk organizer made in walnut, which will make any desk look like an executive’s.


Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links that I receive a very small commission for at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products that I love and would use myself also. You can read my full affiliate disclosure in my privacy policy.

Quick makeovers with self-adhesive wallpaper, plants and murals

Are you looking to give your living room or bedroom a makeover? You are probably thinking of the usual decorating methods of painting or wallpapering. But have you thought of trying something else instead? Self-adhesive wallpaper for example, is a great way to change the look of a room, without the permanence of traditional wallpaper. When you rent, this is especially interesting, as it will not damage your walls. Other ideas to update your boring walls is by ordering a photo mural or creating a photo gallery wall. Or what to think of a vertical plant wall? Here is some inspiration.

Self adhesive wallpaper ideas
Beautiful self adhesive animal wallpaper and many others to choose from at KidsArtWallpaper on Etsy

Self-adhesive wallpaper ideas

Do you think wallpaper is too permanent and tedious to remove again when the time comes? Are you worried that you will soon tire of the pattern? Then self-adhesive wallpaper is a solution. Wild jungle patterns, moody dark colours, animal prints, you can go to town with this stuff. It’s far easier to install and to remove compared to traditional wallpaper or paint. As you apply it just like a big sticker, it is very easy to install without the mess of wallpaper paste, and easy to remove when you want to change it again in the future. Self-adhesive wallpaper is widely available now online via Etsy or in your local DIY and hardware store. If you like to give your bedroom, kitchen or living room a new look, sticky wallpaper is a perfect option. It is also great for children’s rooms and nurseries.

Self adhesive peel and stick wallpaper
Add a feature to your dining room with this wonderful leaf wallpaper from DeccoPrint

Photo Mural ideas

Do you want to prolong that wonderful holiday feeling? Choose to print that tropical beach photo on self-adhesive wallpaper and cover your wall with it! You can do the same with beautiful black and white photos of your children, wedding or other memorable event. If you don’t have suitable photos yourself, search online for ready-made self-adhesive photo wallpapers on sites such as Etsy.

peel and stick photo mural
Adhesive peel and stick photo mural from PrintDecorShop on Etsy

Vertical Plant Wall

Plants always make a room look lovely. If you want to add some greenery, consider installing a vertical plant wall. This is a frame, mounted to the wall, in which you either plant small plants, or hang pots from. In the example below, they suspended one plant from a bracket on the wall and guided the branches along the wall through a frame to eventually create a nice living, green wall. With a vertical plant wall you fill the entire wall with plants or part of it. If you have a green thumb, use real plants, but artificial plants also give a great effect and of course do not require any maintenance.

Living green wall DIY
Image: Melissa Frusco

An original painted mural

Not as temporary as the other suggestions, and a little more time-consuming, but at least as cool: a painted mural! You will probably have to repaint this when you cancel the rent, but until then you have something unique to look at. And hey, it’s only paint! No screws, holes or other damage. If you are creative and artistic yourself, you can probably tackle this project yourself; alternatively ask someone in your network who can do this for you for a fee (or in exchange for something you can offer in return).

Image: Alisa Burke mural tips and tricks

A photo gallery wall

Pick the best photos from your travels, friends and family and create a “cloud” of framed pictures on your wall. Want to add some lovely art prints? Have a look at these, on Etsy. You get the best effect if you choose different formats of frames and use them interchangeably. Would you rather not have nails and screws in the wall? Then buy self-adhesive brackets that you can easily remove from the wall. Also read our post on gallery walls and how to design them.

Gallery wall ideas
Photographs, art prints, magazine cutouts, be creative and make your own little exhibition! Image: Pinterest

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links that I receive a small commission for at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products that I love and would use myself also. You can read my full affiliate disclosure in my privacy policy.