How 2020 made me realise that I had gone in the wrong direction

Creativity runs through my veins. It is my life fuel, my elixir to go back to when I need a boost. Once I have an idea in my head, I am unstoppable. It’s like the energy just keeps flowing, and I feel so alive. Do you know that feeling, when you’ve found something you are passionate about? Whatever you may say about 2020, it’s been a year of transformation for many. The lockdowns, the changes, they have made many of us stop and think, and adapt. 2020 made it clear to me that I had gone in the wrong direction. And something had to give.

It’s coming up to three years now, since we left Scotland and moved to Spain. Moving to a sunny country sounds dreamy and amazing, and it is in many ways, but it also throws you into complete turmoil. It shakes the ground under your feet, makes you wonder who you actually are in this new country, and what you are going to do with your life, now you’re here. You really start from scratch. No friends, no family, no job. Just your husband, kids, a fluffy old cat and a truck full of furniture. And even for me, someone who is, in general, pretty resilient and flexible, it’s been a heck of a process to figure it all out.

Making money, doing the wrong thing

When we left, I felt all eyes on us from afar. “Will they make it? What are they going to do? How are they going to earn money?” I made it my job to set up a business as soon as possible, in fact, even before we moved. I know you shouldn’t care about what other people think, but you still do, and I wanted to show the home front that we were doing great! As Spain is not an easy place to find work, I decided to set up as a freelance copywriter. I thought, that’ll be a good bet, every business needs copy, and I am a good writer. And I wasn’t wrong.

Within a year, I found clients, mainly remote, and started to make a reasonable income as a startup business. It felt good to make money, while living in the sun! I mean, working on your laptop in a café on a Valencian beach…versus sitting in a freezing Scottish office, watching the rain lash against your window? You get the picture!

You can’t beat the blue of the Valencian sky.

But then last year, the Covid-19 lockdowns hit, and I lost some big clients. I felt stressed, and frantically promoted myself online as a copywriter, and luckily, by September, things got better. I had upped my income again, and even earned more than before. The thing was, I started to hate it. Writing web copy for a plastic cosmetic jar factory, an About page for a drone rental company…blog posts for a lease car business. Product descriptions for posh sinks and bath tubs! It was becoming soulless. The money was coming in, but the fire was going out.

On a journey back to my values

In October, while my husband decided to go away for a month to walk the famous 800km Camino the Santiago, I went on my own journey. An internal one, just here at home, in my office. I don’t know where this pull came from all of a sudden, but one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I signed up for an online business course. I started to follow money mindset coaches and business mentors, for goodness’s sake. That was a first! I bought new notebooks, did lots of journaling. I was changing. And you know where it brought me, in the end? Back to my roots.

In three months time, I rediscovered the thing that I really want to do, and what I have done nearly all of my adult life: working with creative entrepreneurs. Writing about shiny bogs and taps just ain’t cutting it when you are an artist at heart. I was missing my quirky, creative tribe! I had made ‘Soulful Living’ the tag line of this blog, but was I doing it? Nope, I had drifted away from my own values.

Photo by Alex Baker images

Marketing help for creative entrepreneurs and artists

So here I am, three months on, and I am very excited to share my new venture with you all: The Creative Business Coach. I am going to coach and train up creative entrepreneurs on how to become more visible online. In my 20+ years of working in the cultural sector as arts marketeer and audience development consultant, I met many artists, and one thing was always very clear: they find it hard to promote themselves. The lack of marketing skills, confidence and sales techniques is holding many creatives back, and I believe there is a need for change. Art is work? Well, you bet it is.

So what about the copywriting? I love writing, I love blogging, I love creating content – and storytelling is part of what I teach my clients. So I am not giving up that bit just yet! But staying true to your values also means choosing to work with clients who you love working with. Saying no to jobs is hard, when you feel like it’s good money, and you just want to grab all you can get…but in the long run, it will wear you out.

Have you gone through a similar transformation recently?

Want to know more?

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What we can learn from our children this year

I’ve been feeling like a high pressure cooker lately. Just done. Boiling over regularly. Anyone else in the same boat? The stresses of this year, family life, work, and let’s not forget the freaking c-word. The other day it was late afternoon and I just had it. I broke down in front of the kids. Boiling over again. But what my son said to me then, changed everything.

“What’s the matter, mummy?” he asked, looking at me, as I sat there on the floor in the hallway feeling sorry for myself, coat still on. “It’s ok, sweetheart, mummy is just very tired!” I replied. “This year has been so horrible! I have had enough, I just want it all to be over.” The boys looked at me as if I was talking Chinese. They were still wearing their face masks, as we’d just come in from outside.

We had a nice year

Then my eldest, who had turned nine a few days earlier, said: “But mummy, this year wasn’t horrible. Why are you saying that? We had a nice year.” I looked up at him in surprise. He actually meant it. He continued: “We had my birthday, that was fun, and we went to a fun halloween party, and in the summer we went to the swimming pool. That was fun too. And it’s almost Christmas. Why are you saying it’s a horrible year?” I hugged him tightly. “You are right”, I said. “Mummy just needed a little cry. Thank you for cheering me up.”

Stupid coronavirus

I realised it is all so subjective. Our kids see things so differently. And this ignorance is bliss, of course. We get bombarded by the media, let everything get to us. We become angry and frustrated because things are not normal this year. We’ve been robbed from certain freedoms. We fight it so much internally. Store up the anxiety and anger in our bodies, creating havoc on our health. Meanwhile, the kids only focus on their own little world. They are flexible and resilient. Yes, they shout: “Stupid coronavirus!” in the street, but then they run off and play tag. And then they ask what’s for dinner.

Children are so much more accepting and living in the now. No judgement, going with the flow. As long as they get enough love, food, outside playtime and, yes, their beloved video games on the weekend, they’re happy. Face masks? Yeah, ok, wear them. Next year not needed anymore? OK, fine, take ‘em off and forget about the whole thing. No big deal. We turn all of these things into great big stories and fear in our head, adding to our heavy heart. We should play more tag.

The sun will come up tomorrow

I wish I could switch off my grownup brain for a bit. Just be. Not think about what’s been this year or what’s coming next year. Get angry at propaganda in the news, most of it lies. Right now I am sitting in my house, with a meal in the oven, a cup of tea in hand, and happy children playing Lego in the living room. The cat is purring. The sun is going down. Tomorrow the sun will come up again, and the cat will pur, and the children will be playing, and the kettle will be boiling. Nothing more, nothing less. The world may be raging in the media, but here in my house, it is still and peaceful.

And it hasn’t been a horrible year for us. It’s just that everybody is saying it, and it’s just been really unusual. My family is OK, we have work and savings, and a roof over our head. There are waves we must ride, yes, like in any household, and in life, but storms never last forever. It’s been a 10-month tornado, but right now I want to look at my children and see that there is still plenty to be grateful for.

Reflecting on a crazy year; my positives of 2020

This has been the weirdest year ever. Who would have thought we’d be walking around like surgeons, obsessing about germs and basically staying home most of the time? Anyway, as a happy story, I felt, since it is December, that I should try and end on a positive. Time for reflection, to be grateful and to look back on a year when amidst the craziness, there were beautiful things too. Here are my positives of 2020.

Opera singers on balconies

I mean, how amazing was that? You’ve probably seen the videos going viral on social media of the opera singers in Italy back in March, or people singing from their windows. In Spain, it was just like that. Like Italy, Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. We were not allowed out, even for a walk around the block. A walk to bins was a holiday. Our kids were literally imprisoned for over 60 days, driving whole families up the walls. We were all going pretty insane.

But while times were weird and tough, I can still recall feeling the glow inside, when suddenly hearing the voice of an opera singer one street down from us (see video), singing Valencian’s anthem on a Sunday morning. The emotion, the passion, the vibrato. The burst of applause and ‘bravos’ exploding from the surrounding flats, once finished. I cried. It was a moment of feeling human, standing together, solidarity, because we were all in the same boat.

Heaps of creative online resources

With no option to go out those first few months, people spent all day on the internet. And I mean, thank god for the internet. Because other than the funny memes that kept us all entertained on social media, we were also kept fit by our favourite dance, pilates and yoga teachers who suddenly started doing Zoom lessons. Parents on Whatsapp shared amazing links to virtual museum tours or educational resources, to help each other to spice up homeschooling.

And there were plenty of wonderful living room concerts organised by artists who suddenly saw their world tours cancelled. Did you attend any? I did, and I even bought tickets! While at first, most of these things were given away for free, people quickly got used to the idea of paying for online services, as a way to support creative businesses, and because the output is often of superb quality. You miss the live experience, for sure, but it’s certainly the next best thing.

Time as a family at home

Alright, alright, by May time, we all had enough. I admit, this homeschooling malarkey was just too much for everyone. But the first weeks or even months, it was quite special, having the kids at home all of a sudden. No hectic school runs, no busy schedules, no shouting ‘where are your freakin’ shoes’ at 8.30am. Suddenly, we were still. We had all the time in the world. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Even my work got halved as I lost a big long term client.

We built towers, we danced in the living room, we read books, we watched films, and we did endless hours of arts and crafts. To me, those first weeks were a real eye-opener. Of how busy we’d been, how we had lost connection with our children, how we had become a family-machine in a way, just surviving and getting through the weeks. I was able to simply see my children, be with them, and listen to their wondrous stories. To me, those months at home during lockdown have been very precious.

Hair dye experiment on the terrace. Why not. We had nothing else to do.

The sheer joy of freedom

But I won’t lie; being forced to stay indoors with two young boys who have so much energy, they should be plugged into the national grid, was no easy task. When the news came that children were allowed out again, it was as if Christmas had come early. We only had an hour a day, and could not go any further than 1 km from home (as I am writing this, I realise the absolute weirdness of it all!), but we explored every inch of our town.

Unknown play parks, forgotten pieces of forest to build secret dens, the endless agricultural fields, and the quiet, empty car parks for learning to ride a bike. Then, late May, when we were finally allowed to meet other people, we really counted our blessings. Sitting on a terrace on the beach, sipping an Aperol Spritz, and having a laugh with our long-lost friends, was just a relief. Freedom should never be taken for granted.

Not a bad day to celebrate freedom after lockdown

After the rain… fresh opportunities

With no tourists coming to Valencia any more, my job as a cycling tour guide for 2020 was cancelled. My copywriting jobs were also rapidly slinking, as my biggest client was an estate agent in Spain, fully dependent on expats buying second homes. I suddenly sat at home with loads of time but hardly any income. I seriously wondered if it was better to stop being self-employed, as I still had my monthly expenses and it was hardly worth it. But, me being me, I decided to keep going and looked for fresh opportunities.

Over the summer I registered myself on various platforms such as Fiverr, and after a few weeks of accepting low-paid jobs to build up testimonials and becoming more visible online, the better paid jobs were slowly trickling in. When I also started to work on money mindset, and I took the plunge to up my prices, things really started shifting. I started attracting much better clients and much nicer jobs. I since have tripled my income, despite a difficult start of the year. With so many people starting online businesses, the need for great website copy has surely gone up.

What have your highs been this year? Did you start a new business against all odds? Did you discover the joys of working from home? Have you created new habits? Leave a comment below!

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.

The comedy of it all. The funniest covid rules that make no sense whatsoever

How long have we been in this crazy situation now? Right. Since March. And we’ve seen it all, haven’t we? I know everybody is trying their best to keep the virus at bay, or they are just implementing what they’re told, but some rules make you wonder about people’s sanity. And I mean common sense here. I want to share some things that just made me laugh. I mean, can you imagine your reaction if we had told you during summer 2019, that we would be all be walking around like surgeons this year? Not being able to hug our grandma, being fined for going out after midnight and getting excited about a new face mask in a fancy pattern? It’s bonkers! It’s mad! We got to laugh, right, or else we’d be crying. Keep up the good spirits, folks, we’re all in this together. What’s the most ridiculous rule you have come across this year?

silly covid rules
Yeah. Kids and masks.

Disinfecting the streets

Maybe it’s a Spanish thing, but I am truly amazed by the obsession of this country to spray bleach across the asphalt. Perhaps they did this before the pandemic, but they’ve certainly ramped it up this year. And people actually want this! They send angry letters to the council to tell them they want their pavement disinfected, because god forbid; germs. I’m not sure about you guys, but I don’t generally go around licking and touching roads. And have you heard of anyone getting covid from a wheely bin? Me neither.

The 1-mile pool walk

It was August and it was HOT here in Spain. We don’t have a pool, so off we trotted with the kids down to the local communal open air swimming pool one afternoon. On arrival, they asked me for 1) my proof of appointment and 2) all our ID cards. After a 10-minute admin stint, we got in. Stop! Held at gun point! Well, thermometer gun point. All good. Shoes had to go through the sanitizer mat, hands gelled, and we entered. Phew.

Then came step two. They did a good job splitting the artificial grass up into squares with red and white tape, and made it clear to us that we had to stick to our little private patch. No problem, all good. The boys jumped in and splashed around. Oh! Child one needed the toilet. Face mask back on, and off he went. On the way back, however, there was absolutely no way he was allowed to just quickly run back to our grassy patch a few steps away from the toilet block. There were arrows to follow, señora! Poor kid had to turn right, and walk a rather long and pretty ridiculous circular route around the whole of the pool, in bathing costume, but with a face mask on, to finally arrive back at base. Because god forbid he may have passed someone on the way, in the fresh air, with a face mask on. Because that never happens in the street, right? No point at complaining. Rules are rules, especially in Spain.

silly covid rules
Super busy! Watch out, you may pass someone on your way to the toilets. Sorry, I am getting cynical. It’s a serious business.

The taped off toilet cubicles

Social distancing. An important technique to stop a virus from spreading and drilled into each one of us this year. But can anybody please explain to me how a virus could spread through the partition wall of a toilet cubicle? It truly baffles me, each time I see a queue of people waiting for a row of toilets, because every second cubicle has been closed off. Surely we’re all more at risk gathering in a narrow corridor? You tell me. We can all sit beside each other on the bus or metro without partitions, but clearly toilets are a danger zone.

silly covid rules
OK, I get the sink one. Perhaps you’d accidentally splash an infected covid drop on your neighbour, while washing your hands. Right? Oh, I don’t know.

Booking a time slot at the zoo

Sounds good, I thought! I hate crowds with a vengeance, and a dedicated time slot to avoid those sounded like a perfect solution to me. I imaged a nice, relaxing day ahead of me with the kids; wandering around in peace, watching the giraffes, the elephants, the meerkats, with very few people there. Only, they forgot to kick out visitors who had booked for the 10am slot, and so they were all still there at 2pm. So there we were, standing in a bloody queue for the gorillas. Not sure who looked more grumpy, me or those gorillas who clearly also had enough of endless hordes of visitors. Hundreds of people, being squeezed through narrow pathways to catch a glimpse of an animal, all for the price of €23 a ticket and a pretty pointless exercise of trying to limit crowds by offering time slots. I had a large glass of wine that evening. I have since learnt that the zoo got sanctioned for not taking enough care that particular bank holiday weekend. Oops, zoo.

Shoulder to shoulder on a plane

I know, I know, I didn’t have to risk it. I didn’t have to get on a plane. But not seeing my parents since last winter was becoming too painful, so I flew solo across to the Netherlands for a few days to be with them. Just me. The airport was very quiet. No queues, easy security control, pleasant first leg of the journey, it was a breeze! “Please wear your mask, keep 1.5m distance at all times”. All pretty doable. Until we got on the plane, that was. Fully booked. Not a seat empty. So there I sat, jammed in a seat next to a total stranger for two hours and twenty minutes. People in front of me, behind me, across the aisle. At least my neighbour took protection very seriously and was wearing two face masks. And then, 45 minutes later, the stewardess came round with refreshments and all masks were hungrily removed at once. Hmmm, coffee! Luckily the air on an aircraft gets refreshed every six minutes. They even say it is much cleaner than the air in restaurants, bars, stores, or your best friend’s living room. OK. We can breathe.

silly covid rules
Do I look anxious? Or mad?

Nose against the football fence

Football matches are without audiences this year, stadiums are weirdly empty. This is no different for the local village team playing their Saturday game. Seats are taped off, nobody is allowed to watch inside the club’s playing field. However, you can’t keep the Spanish away from a good match, and so they found the perfect solution; they can watch it all through the fence, can’t they! So there they stand, whole (masked) families, shoulder to shoulder, snacks in hand, looking through the tall chicken wire fence of the football field, shouting at the players. At least the sports centre can claim they are following the rules.

Closure of play grounds

I was hoping that by now there would be enough evidence across the world to show that children under 12 hardly pose a risk of infection at all. Whenever there is a class quarantined, it’s nearly always because a teacher has covid. None of the pupils catch it in class. Because of wearing a face mask? Nah. I doubt it. You can’t tell me that a 6-year-old is protected from the virus by a wet, dirty piece of cotton strapped in front of his mouth, that he also touches regularly throughout the day while cuddling all his classmates. I am waiting eagerly for the news that my kids can go to school without a face mask on for eight hours a day. Anyway, different topic.

The play grounds in Valencia city have been closed for two months now. It’s the saddest sight ever, those tied up swings and red and white tape around a climbing frame. However, most neighbouring towns kept them open. Why? No idea. The play areas in our municipality are open, but the ones in the town that borders it, are not. Plenty of families in our school come from the neighbouring town. Are you seeing the logic? Because I don’t.

silly covid rules

Follow the arrows in an empty museum

Why museums are closed in many countries, is beyond me. Unless you are wanting to visit Rembrandt’s finest in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, you are likely to wander around large airy rooms by yourself or a handful of others, with plenty of space to ‘social distance’. Here in Valencia, the galleries are open right now, and I treated my creative eldest son to an ‘art date’ with mummy this weekend. We went to the modern art museum and entered gallery number 1 where we were greeted by a guard, explaining the lay of the land. “Please follow the arrows and stay in your half of the room, and on the way back you will see the other half.” Alright. The gallery consisted of three large spaces. There were literally five people in it. But hey, rules, right.

I know these constitutions and organisations all try to do their bit, but I have raised many an eyebrow the past eight months. I wish we were all being drilled about the importance of taking vitamin D, about staying mentally sane and physically healthy, so we have strong immune systems and can fight off all viruses. The emphasis is so much on following arrows and disinfecting streets, rather than what you can do yourself to prevent disease in the first place. I am not anti-mask just now (even though it’s uncomfortable) nor anti-vax for vulnerable people, once it becomes available. But, blimey.

The world has gone mad this year, and people are becoming suspicious of one another, even reporting each other for not following rules, to the extend of ‘online shaming them’ in local Facebook groups. People are scared of germs, and petrified of visiting their relatives, even in the open air, in case they “kill granny”. Meanwhile, granny is deteriorating alone in her nursing home, longing to see a loved one after another endless, quiet day at the tail end of her life. I sincerely hope we will soon see the end of this madness and start looking after ourselves and each other again, in a normal, healthy way. By all means, keep washing your hands and stop snogging strangers you just met on Tinder, but just calm down and keep the perspective. This too shall pass. Stay sane.

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

Mum is a permanent marker. Explaining unconditional love to children.

I am not a patient mother. I am also not an attachment parent and have never been a dedicated stay-at-home mum. My kids mean the world to me, but I also value my own freedom. A lot. And sometimes the two clash a little, especially when I am busy. Mum-guilt! I end up raising my voice, losing my temper, saying things I regret later. I know when children play up, it’s mostly because they want your attention, but some days I just don’t have the energy. I am only human. Do I sound familiar? Still, children do not always recognise that mum still loves them, even though she gets angry or impatient with them. How do you explain unconditional love to a sensitive child?

My eldest boy, nearly nine, is a worrier. He has always been a little nervous and anxious about things. On the surface he is a very active, happy and social boy, and he easily makes friends. He is not shy, is very creative and gets on with most people. But at home, he tells me he worries. About whether his writing is good enough, whether he looks OK and if we love him enough. “Mr Worry is bothering me again”, he says.

Figuring out the meaning of relationships

At this age, he is very much figuring out emotions, friendships, family relationships – and the meaning of love. He is especially confused about the difference between ‘liking someone’ and ‘loving someone’. I had to explain several times that I may not like his behaviour when he misbehaves, but I will always love him, no matter what. He worries about many things, but lately he worries that mummy will stop loving him when he is naughty. It breaks my heart to think he would even doubt my love for him, so I knew I had to come up with something.

How do you get through to a child with such anxiety? Where do these feelings come from? Is it my own fault? Does he need more guidance? It’s not as if we don’t show him affection at home. We cuddle him, play with him, spend time with him, read to him. Does he need more of it? Surely I don’t need to tell him I love him every 5 minutes? Or do I? His younger brother doesn’t show any of these insecurities, instead is cool as a cucumber, and very independent. The eldest one wants reassurance ALL. THE. TIME. How do you deal with that without going nuts? Oh, parenting, it ain’t easy, is it.

My love is a permanent marker

Last night, the worry was back. “I just think that you won’t love me any more in the future and I’m worried about that”, he said in tears. The boys were both in bed, it was about 9pm, and I was about to do the bedtime stories. I sat next to him, held him close and dried his tears. “Mummy loves you always” I told him, “That will never change. My love for you is permanent, it will always stay, even when you’re a grown-up. I will love you until the end of my life, I promise”, I told him, and of course ended up getting all tearful myself. “You mean, like a permanent marker?” he replied, obviously trying to make sense of the word ‘permanent’. “Yes, sweetie, like a permanent marker. It never rubs off. It will always stay on.” What a brilliant metaphor I thought! “So just remember, being angry, worried or scared is only like writing in pencil. You can rub it out, those feelings don’t stay forever.” He looked at me and smiled. “And mummy’s love you can’t rub out.”

This Monday morning we were rushing as usual, trying to make it in time for the school breakfast. Mr Worry was back. “Will we be late mummy, will we miss breakfast? Will we be late mummy, are we late?” my son kept asking in a panic. Normally I snap at him, telling him to stop asking the same questions over and over again, because surely I already told him it was going to be OK and can he please just be quiet. Today I stopped in the middle of the pavement, looked at his face and asked him:”Do you just need some more permanent marker on your cheeks, sweetie?” “Yes”, he smiled, quietly. I held him, covered his face in kisses, and he was happy. I squeezed his hand tightly as we walked into the school playground, calmly, and lovingly.