House Tour: a 100-year old Spanish villa with sixteen-foot ceilings and a dumb waiter

I still squeeze myself daily, waking up in the beautiful villa we managed to rent for the next few years. I did a house tour on the blog last year of our first rental here in Valencia, a new built, not knowing that just six months later we’d be moving into something completely different. We are currently the caretakers – not just tenants, as I really feel privileged to hold the keys to this house – of a monumental villa from 1915, with 5 meter high ceilings, an abundance of original Spanish tiles and a view to die for. I am excited to show you around this amazing building.

The paella that changed our life

It was by accident we got it (or was it…? “…You manifested this place very well, Nien!” said my sister, who is a firm believer in creating your own reality). My husband and I had been looking around for a while, trying to find a more traditional house in the town centre, but they are hard to find on the rental market. The previous tenants of the villa, who we are friends with, invited us over for a paella one Sunday afternoon last summer. Having studied architecture history at uni, I had always been impressed by their house, one of the most characteristic mansions in the town we live in. I had just shown my husband around before dinner, pointing out all the incredible features, when back at the table our friends announced that they were moving out. I didn’t hesitate one second and blurted out: “Then we are moving in!”

Today I am showing you around a gorgeous 100-year old Spanish villa...with an abundance of original tiles, en rich history and chubby cherubs playing billiards lining the ceiling. Come on in, enjoy the tour!
This photo was taken 11 years ago, when the house had just been restored. Photo: SMBarcquitectura

An ideal summer house on the outskirts of Valencia

The changeover was quick, moving in hardly six weeks after we shared that paella. It was August, so it was a sweaty move. ‘Villa Maria’ however, was originally built on a hill, as a summer residence for a posh family from Valencia city back in the days, and its terrace enjoys a refreshing sea breeze. There is no air conditioning in the house, but when you open the tall windows, the wind just blows through and keeps it cool. We live here year-round though, and the winters are cold in this house with such high ceilings! I have now adapted the Spanish habit of throwing on my fleece bathrobe and cosy slippers as soon as I enter the house in the cooler months. Luckily winter doesn’t last long here.

The fact that it was built as a summer house for recreation and holidays is still visible in the decoration of the hallway. There is a decorative band at the top of the wall depicting many delightful chubby cherubs playing games. Chess, snooker, fencing, cards, dancing… If you didn’t look up, you’d miss it!

A fiesta of Spanish original tiles

The tiles are something else. In a way the combination of tiles is slightly hysterical and totally over the top, but what an abundance of pattern and colour! Every room has a different tile design and the living room even has very bold wall tiling. Most traditional Spanish townhouses in Valencia have incredibly wide hallways, all tiled in bold patterns, both floors and walls. Often they are even used as living spaces with seating. Bedrooms and bathrooms are situated on either side of the hall. It is peculiar to have such a lot of floor space dedicated to a hallway, but it sure gives a spacious feeling and these parts are the coolest areas in the house.

Spanish modernismo meets neo-baroque

It is interesting to see the mix of styles in the interior and exterior of this 1915 building. The beginning of the 20th century was after all a transitional period in architecture. The architect, or perhaps the family who had the house built, were clearly inspired by the most progressive style at the time: Spanish modernismo, similar to Art Nouveau in northern Europe around that time. A style recognisable by its floral details, decorative tiling and organic shapes. Barcelona architect Gaudí is by far the most famous ‘modernismo’ architect, whose style rubbed off on many Spanish contemporaries, albeit often in a less flamboyant, more toned-down version. Especially the living room tiles remind me of this style. For the outside of the building, the architect of Villa Maria seems to revert back to neo-baroque details, the going style during the late 19th century in Spain. The house, like some of its neighbouring properties, certainly looks like a delicious cream cake with curly icing on top. Lots of garlands and roses. Very kitsch, but very pretty.

beautiful spanish home interiors

Restoring its character

The current Spanish owners bought the villa around 12 years ago and found it in desperate need of restoration. Cobwebs hanging from the tall ceilings, many rooms unused and just one old age descendant from the original family still living in it. The buyers hired an architect, selecting the firm on the basis of a good understanding of the building and importance of respecting its original details. They gave the house a facelift without losing its character. Installed a new kitchen and bathrooms, but most of the original aspects kept intact and restored. I think they did an excellent job.

An old chair we originally got reupholstered years ago in Scotland looks right at home in our hallway.

Hoisting up your dinner

The whole villa consists of an upstairs and downstairs – very ‘Downtown Abbey’ – with the upstairs part originally meant for the rich family back in the days, and a downstairs part where the maids and cooks stayed. A reminder of this history is the ‘dumb waiter’ that can still be found in our living room: a cupboard with a pulley, from where they used to hoist their dinner up. It is unfortunately no longer in use! The house is again separated into two apartments at the moment, with the upper part rented out to us and the downstairs part only used by the owners when they come back from abroad every now and then. In the future, it may become used as one villa again.

beautiful spanish home interiors
The dumb waiter in the corner of the room. And Buster, our 12-year old Scottish cat.

A lively plaza

The villa is situated on one of the old plazas of this town on the outskirts of Valencia, next to a 17th century ‘ermita’ or church. It is a lively square, with children playing, teenagers smooching, weddings held, religious processions taking place and there is the wonderful fresh organic market on Saturdays where we do our weekly vegetable shopping. I love living here, watching Spanish life happening right outside our front door.

beautiful spanish home interiors
beautiful spanish home interiors

Watching the sunrise

The back of the house is probably the best part of the property. A large terrace with a view onto both the sea and the mountains in the distance. I can just imagine the posh ladies in 1915 standing here in their long dresses and hats, overlooking the countryside while chatting in the breeze. Nowadays the surrounding countryside is nearly all built up with the ever-expanding towns and suburbs of Valencia, but it must have felt like you were far away from the city buzz 100 years ago. The view is still fantastic though and sometimes when I get woken up by our cat at 6am, I sit on the terrace, listen to the birds and watch the sunrise.

beautiful spanish home interiors
Sun in the morning, shade and sea breeze in the afternoon. On a clear day you can see the sea in the distance. Photo: SMBarcquitectura
beautiful spanish home interiors

An eclectic mix of furniture

The only downside of the house is the fact that it is rented out semi-furnished. But hey, you can’t have it all. We just had to try and fit our own furniture around the pieces that came with the house. The interior is, therefore, a bit of an eclectic mix of their dark cabinets and tables, an old piano, and our own collection of mid-century vintage and Ikea pieces. Probably not my ideal decor, but really, who gives a hoot when you are living in a castle! The bold tiling in the living room also means it is tricky to hang your artworks and make it all look good.

I do love how our own large painting by a South American artist of a jazz band looks like it belongs in this house. I always found it looking slightly out of place in our Scottish home, it just lacked a more vibrant environment. What better house to be in than in a historic ‘summer residence’ with no doubt plenty of parties, now owned by a professional clarinet player (our landlord)?

beautiful spanish home interiors
beautiful spanish home interiors
There is a permanent display of hot wheel loops and train tracks in our house…
beautiful spanish home interiors
In progress last year…Hanging up artworks… ladders essential!

A grand Spanish dame

We don’t know how long we are going to rent this house for, as the owners are planning to move back in the future, but for now I am very grateful for the opportunity to be the resident of such an interesting and beautiful house. We would never be able to afford to buy anything like this, and we wouldn’t want to either (imagine the cost of maintenance!). It will also be quite hard in the future to find another house as great as this one – we are now spoilt forever. But what a treat and honour it is to share a few years of our life with Villa Maria, this grand Spanish dame with her rich history, beauty and charm. I wish she could tell us all her secrets. Soulful living in practice.

beautiful spanish home interiors
Manifesting journal
A little corner from a journal I kept three years ago…manifestation in action.

Creating colourful, eclectic kitchens for happy homes

When choosing a kitchen, most people nowadays will play safe and buy a white one. Bright white, off white or cream. Either sleek and contemporary or a shaker style to create a more traditional look. A super expensive one or a cheaper version from Ikea. This is then usually combined with some neutral, grey or cream tiles, a slate floor and some rustic natural wood shelving and furniture. Nothing wrong with that, it’ll look fab for years to come. But how about stepping away from the white and throwing in some colour?

Accent walls, painted cabinets, bold artwork and colourful tiling

A wall in a bright colour, a bright yellow vintage cabinet, colourful mosaic tiles or a mixed bag of old painted chairs. Colourful accessories like pendant lights, large framed posters and things like kettles and toasters in bold colours are great too for contrast. Be brave, make it unique! Choose a colourful kitchen. Green, like the one in the picture above? Why not?

colourful kitchen ideas
colourful kitchen ideas
colourful kitchen ideas
colourful kitchen ideas
colourful kitchen ideas

Splash out on some expensive wallpaper for a feature wall

A feature wall with colourful, patterned wallpaper can make a bold statement in a dining room or kitchen. Imagine the room with just a white wall…not quite the same, right?

colourful kitchen ideas

Go for an eye-catching splash back

Don’t want to change the kitchen itself? Mosaic tiles, Spanish tiles or even tile decals can really change the look of a kitchen. A colourful back splash will make a huge difference. Decals or stickers are ideal if you are renting and cannot make huge changes to your kitchen.

colourful kitchen ideas

Add some bold artworks to your eclectic kitchen

Bold contemporary, graphic artwork can also add some real style to your kitchen-diner. It combines well with white furniture and a white washed floor. Look on Etsy for inspiration and ready made sets.

colourful kitchen ideas

Black kitchen cupboards instead of standard white

A black kitchen can be abold alternative to a standard white one. Black looks sleek, dramatic, modern and goed perfectly with splashes of colour such as chairs or artwork.

colourful kitchen ideas

Barn doors as an alternative

Adding sliding (barn) doors to a kitchen can also add a difference to a room. How about adding one to an alcove you use as a store cupboard/pantry? Turn it into a blackboard for a real eye catching element. 


Accent colours in the kitchen

Another example of bold wallpaper and accent colours in a great space.



Want to see more eclectic and colourful kitchens? All images and more can be found on my Pinterest board. 

Enjoy your garden year-round with these roofed patio areas

Having lived in Scotland for over twelve years I know a fair bit about its summers and how they are usually over in a flash, if you get one at all. You may get a gorgeous day or even a week where temperatures hit the upper twenties, but the rest of the year you’ll be wearing a jumper and probably a coat. There actually is a saying up in Scotland: ‘There is no bad weather, just bad clothing’. But do you know that feeling, when it’s been a sunny day, you have just laid the table, ready for a nice al fresco dinner or a BBQ, cushions on the chairs, wine poured…and then it starts to cloud over…and rain. Yes? Let’s look at how we can create beautiful roofed patio areas to enjoy the outdoors in all weather.

roofed patio area
This roofed patio has glass screens to close in cold weather, which can be opened in summer. VTWonen

Roofed patios and verandas to enjoy your garden year round

Thank goodness there are solutions (other than moving), including building some useful roofed structures in the garden or as an attachment to your home. People seem to like their wooden summerhouses in the UK, but they are usually not very big and may only have space for two seats at the most. Larger roofed outdoor spaces, like verandas, would give people a lot more opportunity to sit and entertain outside while getting shelter from the weather. Create comfortable lounging areas or place a dining table for al fresco eating.

roofed patio areas

Verandas for shelter and outdoor seating areas

I love verandas. Just a little bit of roofed area alongside your house can give great shelter from some rain or a chilly breeze. Even if it is just to dry your washing. Place a comfortable outdoor sofa alongside the wall to relax and enjoy the view onto your garden.


Indoor flooring for outdoors

This great roofed patio area even has space for a swing. And who says you have to stick to traditional garden tiles? Use large kitchen tiles for a nice feature and don’t forget you can also place rugs for additional colour accents and comfort. Read more about washable rugs.


Installing wood burning stoves for cosy evenings outdoors

In my home country the Netherlands, where the weather can also be quite variable, large roofed patios or ‘garden rooms’ are very popular nowadays. Often combined with a shed or garage, these sheltered areas are great for creating a relaxing corner with outdoor sofas and even a wood burner to add some heat in the evening. A wood burner too costly or complex to install? Have a look at firepits instead!

Unique firepit for garden
This handmade firepit creates a real focal point on your patio. Buy it on Etsy for £275

Small roofed patios for shelter

A roofed garden area doesn’t need to be big, it could be just a small space to cover your favourite comfy seat, or a small table and some chairs. I love the space below, with the large swing and the outdoor rug.

Apartment Therapy

Build your own roofed patio PDF

How about building your own roofed patio? With this PDF on Etsy you get all the steps to build one from scratch.

Download your PDF to build a roofed patio here.


Large garden rooms and roofed patio spaces

What a fabulous big garden room this is in the image below. Again an example of what is quite popular just now in the Netherlands. Great decor, including lighting and artworks, and still space for a tool shed beside it. I would happily sit here with some friends and a glass of wine, wouldn’t you?

Aluminium pergolas for sun and rain

Ever hear of aluminium pergolas? Biossun is a company that makes these things out of recycled materials and they are pretty cool, especially if you prefer something a bit more sleek and contemporary instead of the ones with heavy wooden rustic beams. The Biossun is a swivelling slat pergola that ‘regulates the temperature in all seasons and protects against heat, wind and bad weather.’ Basically, it can be fully open to let the air through, half open to give some shade from sun or shut when it is a rainy day but it is still warm enough to sit outside. They can be built against your house or freestanding in the garden. Looks like a neat solution. If you live in Scotland, our friends over at Papillon Landscaping are the only local supplier of this structure, so get in touch with them if you want to know more.

roofed patio area
roofed patio area
Also great shelter for a hot tub (oh, doesn’t this look inviting…?)

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 disclosure policy.

Washable rugs for beautiful outdoor spaces

Summer is on its way and you may be looking to give your outdoor space an upgrade. Some new plants, a few new seats, perhaps you are retiling the whole area. Washable rugs are a great way to give your balcony, terrace or patio a new look. They are not only practical, they add a touch of comfort, colour and style to your outdoor space. There are many washable rugs available nowadays and the nice thing is that you can use them indoors as well in areas such as the kitchen and bathroom. Great for when you love durable, practical products, without cramping your style. Here are some of my favourites.

Is your terrace looking a bit tired? This roofed patio area will certainly cheer you up! Great use of a washable rug to add a splash of colour and tie in with the cushions on the bench. Source: Apartment Therapy

Why choose washable rugs?

  • Most are machine washable, so very practical
  • No more expensive carpet cleaning products needed
  • There are many beautiful designs available
  • They are very durable
  • They are kid-friendly and pet-friendly!
  • Washable rugs can be used both indoors and outdoors

Mustard yellow outdoor rugs

Washable outdoor rug
This large woven rug ‘Oblique’ of 160 x 230cm is a great choice for both indoors and outdoors in an uplifting mustard and light grey. Buy it at MADE.com for £149

mustard yellow rug
Yellow & Grey Geo Washable Indoor Outdoor Runner – Habitat
Available in the UK at Kukoon from £14.97
mustard yellow rug
Place your washable rug on tiles or decking to make a great lounging area. This one is available in the US from Rugs.com
mustard yellow rug
Great combo with the black patio set, this mustard yellow chevron rug, available from £35.00 from The Rug Warehouse.


Beautiful blue washable rugs

Blue always makes a modern, fresh statement on a terrace or balcony and goes well with the colour of natural wood and other neutrals.

washable rugs
A gorgeous rug designed by Habitat for Kukoon. This Blue Flatweave Tribal Durable Outdoor Rug is priced from £49.95
washable rugs
Here pictured indoors, this great rug us durable and washable and suitable for outdoors too. Find the Coastal Outdoor Teal Rug at Kukoon from £49.95

Pink washable rugs

washable rugs
A lovely soft pastel for this runner of 77 x 200cm. You’ll feel extra good about this one, as it’s made of recycled plastic. Available at Made.com at £79
washable rugs
This beautiful Kilim indoor/outdoor rug is from Crate & Barrel and available from $171.97

Another alternative for outdoors: the stenciled rug!

If you have a decked or tiled patio area, this could be a great idea to give your garden a unique style. It doesn’t come any more washable than that! You could do an edge only or a square underneath your dining table or sitting area. Be creative! You can find stencils at your local DIY or craft store or browse the stencil collection on Etsy.

For a great project example check out this blog: The Other Side of Neutral
Image: Pinterest

Sophisticaded bedroom ideas with mustard yellow bedding

Since my post about mustard yellow and grey living room schemes is a popular one on the blog, I thought I’d give you more of your favourite colour. Today I will be sharing some lovely ideas to use this versatile colour in the bedroom. Here are ideas for bedroom decor, using mustard yellow bedding.



Soft, natural linen for your bed

I love natural bed linen, especially if it is of a soft, pre-washed quality like these beautiful shades, pictured below. The ones below are from CottonMood on Etsy, 
making duvet covers and pillow cases in natural linen in all sizes.

mustard yellow bedding


Tips for accessories and accent colours to go with mustard yellow bedding

Mustard yellow seems to be a colour trend that is here to stay. The new accent colour that goes very well with grey, sand colours, blues and even dusty pink or browns. Try adding some accessories like copper light shades, woven natural baskets, natural wooden ladders or crates for storage and some framed artwork in monochrome, blue and grey shades.

mustard grey bedroom


Knitted blankets and crisp sheets

Mustard yellow bedding doesn’t have to be the duvet cover. Invest in a beautiful cosy blanket or throw for the colder months, perfect in combination with crisp white sheets. This super soft chunky blanket is by WoolArtDesign. This blanket is arm knitted from best quality merino wool, which is fair, ethical and eco-sustainable.

mustard yellow bedding

Add some artwork to your mustard grey bedroom

A bedroom wouldn’t be finished without some striking artwork on the wall above the bed. This beautiful mountain print set would make a stunning addition to your sophisticated mustard and grey bedroom. Very affordable too at just £35 for three large A2 size unframed prints.

mustard grey bedroom

Mixing up textures for a layered look

The bedroom is the perfect place to to use a variety of different textures and textiles. Linen is lovely to sleep under, but soft velvet cushions can add a but of luxury and ‘boudoir’ feel to your bedroom. Knitted blankets and woven rugs will balance things out with their more ‘rough’ and chunky look.


And don’t forget a bit of glam for yourself!

You may have spruced up your bedroom with gorgeous new mustard yellow bedding, but you may need something to wear with it, right? How about this beautiful Yellow Gold Handmade Silk Kimono Robe? I recently ordered this one myself and it makes you feel like rather glamorous in the morning. Super quality and light to wear, perfect for warmer weather.

Feel and look fantastic in this glamorous silk kimono robe from Etsy

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 disclosure policy.

Lower your energy bill (and be good for the planet)

Do you want to lower your energy bill too? I live in Spain so you would think that all energy comes straight from the sun, but no. Unfortunately the big energy companies still have a monopoly on supplying everybody with electricity through fossil fuels, which means the monthly bill is not as low as we’d like it to be, never mind the impact on the environment. Only about 14% of energy in Spain comes from different renewable energy sources. Sun, we have so much sun here, imagine how much energy we could generate! Anyway, while I am waiting for a renewables revolution and the tides to turn (excuse the pun), here are some ways to lower your energy bill right now.


Turn off the standby button

I am terrible at this, leaving my laptop on standby, leaving mobile phone chargers dangling from sockets and keeping the coffee machine on all morning. Do you also leave your laptop or TV on standby when you’re done with it? Switch off all electricity. Always. A lot of power is lost by devices that are not being used, but are secretly still on.

save money on your energy bill

Use a multi-point extension lead to lower your energy bill

Use a multi point extension lead for several devices at the same time. Devices with an adapter or transformer also consume a lot of energy when they are off or in standby mode. If you have them in an extension box, then you can operate multiple devices at the same time with one button and you will noticeably combat sneaky energy consumption.

Air your home: good for health and wallet

Opening windows and airing your rooms: not only good for your health, but also for your wallet so you can lower your energy bill. Ventilate your apartment or house well: fresh, dry air is easier to heat than moist air.

Turn the heating down a notch

Turn your heating down one notch. Or two. Does that really matter? It certainly does! Every notch means a reduction of 7% on your final bill. Always feeling cold? Buy a nice warm cardigan for at home, some matching furry slippers. The lower energy bill at the end of the month will make you glow inside.

save money on your energy bill

Fill your fridge to lower your energy bill

Another thing that you probably didn’t know yet: a full fridge costs less energy to cool than an empty one. Make sure the fridge is full in order to lower your energy bill. If necessary, place empty bottles filled with water to fill the refrigerator. Handy to have spare bottles of cool water in summer and your refrigerator will use less energy.



Remove the ice layer in the freezer

In so many homes, the freezer doesn’t get cleaned regularly and soon a thick layer of ice appears around the drawers and the edges. Better be careful! For every 2 mm ice layer, the energy consumption of the freezer increases by 10%. It is worth defrosting it every once in a while.

Swap all your old light bulbs for energy saving ones

Most of you have probably done this already over the years, but you may find some old fashioned energy gobbling bulb sitting in a bedside table lamp. It may be an investment, but it is worth exchanging all bulbs in the long run. Energy-saving lamps require 6 times less electricity and last 10 times as long.

Change supplier

If you really want to lower your energy bill, maybe it is time to review your supplier. You can make the biggest financial savings by choosing the right energy company. Therefore, check whether you have a contract that suits you, your house and your usage. Make sure that you get a well-arranged bill, so that you have a better insight into what most of your energy is spent on.


Curious festive traditions from around the world. The season of death, darkness and peculiar saints

Moving abroad means meeting people from all over the world, all with different backgrounds and customs. You chat to them about life, family traditions and “what are you doing for Christmas?” and soon discover that people have all been brought up with different things. It is very educational to say the least, and wonderful to learn about what everyone celebrates from October to December. Here are some of the known and lesser known traditions you can find around the world this season. Some rather scary ones too.

Halloween. No, it is not an American invention

An American lady here in my hometown of Valencia posted in a Facebook expat group how she was keen to “organise the typical American experience of trick or treating” in Valencia and invited us all to take part. I don’t think she saw what was coming next, namely a whole host of Scots and Irish expats telling her that she “didn’t have to show them, thank you very much, as halloween is a holiday of Gaelic origin – not American.” I guess that was her told – ouch.

Halloween, or the ancient Samhain, is considered the time of year when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. Samhain (pronounced sah-van or sow-in) is the traditional Gaelic festival marking the change of seasons and the approach of winter. Dead and departed relatives played a central role in the tradition, as the connection between the living and dead was believed stronger at Samhain, and there was a chance to communicate. The idea that souls return home on a certain day of the year is repeated across many cultures around the world, including the Day of the Dead in Mexico around the same date. During Samhain or Halloween eventually, mumming and guising (going door-to-door in disguise and performing in exchange for food), or pranks, were a way of confounding evil spirits. Pranks at Samhain date as far back as 1736 in Scotland and Ireland, and this led to Samhain being dubbed “Mischief Night”. The original lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were carved from turnips, not pumpkins.

As a Dutchie who didn’t grow up with Halloween, I went around my local Spanish neighbourhood with an Irish friend this year, as well as a group of Spanish parents and a Swedish mum, who also felt a bit out of place. It was a laugh, and kind of odd trick or treating in a T-shirt in still 24 degrees at night. For the Spanish this halloween thing really is a novelty. Hilarious and entertaining to see everyone learning from each other and adapting to new customs.

All Saints Day in Spain

The day after Halloween the Spanish celebrate All Saints’ day, or Día de todos los Santos, where they remember their dearly departed and bring flowers to the graves of their deceased loved ones. Of course nothing goes without eating in Spain and there are a few traditional sweets that the Spanish eat on All Saints’ Day. The most common are the so-called huesos de santo (literally, “saint’s bones”), which are made of marzipan and sweetened egg yolk. Another treat you’ll find are buñuelos de viento, puffy fried balls of dough filled with pastry cream, whipped cream, or chocolate. Yum!

Yum, how about a bite in the old Saint’s bones?

Day of the Dead, more than just a costume

Day of the Dead, taking place in Mexico the first few days of November, is currently a bit of a fashionable theme for people choosing their halloween costumes, but is actually an ancient celebration that is way more than a bit of makeup and a lot of flower displays. Some of the earliest origins of the tradition can be traced as far back to 2,000-3000 year-old rituals honouring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Celebrating the lives of deceased family members and friends, people believe that during this part of the year, loved ones can return from the Chicunamictlán – the land of the dead – because the border between the real and spiritual world melts away.

When Spanish colonisers came to the region, they carried the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated on the first two days of November. Day of the Dead was moved to correspond closer to these days. In 2008, UNESCO added the country’s “indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead” to its list of so-called Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Day of the Dead in Mexico, with their colourful parades and iconic face masks

St Martin and the paper lanterns

In the Netherlands, at least the north where I grew up, as well as parts of Germany, we celebrate Saint Martins Day on the 11th of November. The day is named after St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church for being a kind man who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm – although as a child I never knew this part of the story. All I remember is that we went around the streets after dark with paper lanterns knocking on people’s doors, sang songs about St Martin and received sweets and oranges in return. It often rains that time of year, so you can imagine the sight: soggy lanterns and frozen children.

Saint Martin, going around the houses and singing songs in return for sweets

Saint Nicholas or ‘Sinterklaas’ in the Netherlands

Staying in the Netherlands, we are also the first to kick off the festive season with our Saint Nicholas on the evening of 5th of December, or 6th of December in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northern France. This saint is a legendary figure based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas (270–343), a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey and the patron saint of children. Saint Nicolas, who is believed to also be the predecessor of good old Santa Claus, introduced to the United States of America by Dutch immigrants, who, just like myself, couldn’t shake off some of their old customs. Some people refuse to believe this, but Santa Claus actually received his jolly, cuddly image from Coca Cola, who felt the old bishop needed a non-religious makeover.

The Dutch with their peculiar tradition of St Nicholas and his black helpers…coming on a boat from Spain and bringing presents to the children in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands however, we have kept the St Nicholas tradition alive and well. It is also the cause of wide eyes and disbelief among the international community when I try and explain what in my mind has always been a very innocent tradition. St Nicholas is depicted as an elderly, stately and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape over a traditional white bishop’s alb, dons a red mitre and ruby ring, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top. For some reason the old man with the beard no longer comes from Turkey, but he now arrives every year on a boat from Spain. Until recently our St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, was assisted by a large number of Zwarte Pieten (“Black Petes”), curious helpers dressed in Moorish attire and in blackface, who would take naughty kids back to Spain in a sack. Wowzers. As a child I know for certain we thought nothing of it: they were just the Saint’s helpers, not a racist imitation of people with a black or brown skin colour. Their black colour was because they climbed through the chimney, obviously. And somehow they ended up wearing gold earrings and curly black wigs with it. Cue: gasping audience. You will be glad to hear that Zwarte Piet has left the scene and was in recent years replaced by Rainbow Pete

Did Black Pete made you cringe? Meet Krampus, his evil Austrian brother

A beast-like demon creature that roams city streets frightening kids and punishing the bad ones – nope, this isn’t Halloween, but St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus. Just like in the Netherlands, in Austrian tradition, St. Nicholas rewards good little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus (especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day) frightening the living daylight out of kids with clattering chains and bells. Holy shoot. Give me back rainbow Pete any time.

Hide your broom in Norway

Perhaps one of the most unique Christmas Eve traditions can be found in Norway, where people hide their brooms. Yes, that’s right. Nevermind the manic last minute gift wrapping or preparing the Turkey for Christmas dinner. Get that broom safely in the cupboard. It’s a tradition that dates back centuries to when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. To this day, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.

Four decor items to make you feel right at home

Whether you have just moved house, staying somewhere temporarily or you are a digital nomad traveling the globe, it is pleasant to feel at home somewhere straight away. Especially if you are on your own. What are items to make you feel right at home? Things that are comforting and add a sense of familiarity? Here are four items you could try for yourself while on the move, or to welcome your guests while staying at your home.

Digital nomad lifestyle items

Home fragrances and natural candles

I don’t know about you, but I like a room to smell nice. So candles or room fragrances can really help with that. If you have guests arriving, it can be very welcoming to have a fragranced candle flickering in the bathroom for example to add a bit of a ‘spa’ feel. Or how about a candle that smells of freshly ground coffee filling the space?

You could pop your favourite candle in your hold luggage too if you travel somewhere, to make your hotel room smell beautiful. (Be careful putting it in hand luggage or it may get taken at security, you never know what is seen as a potential ‘liquid’!)


Soft, comforting blankets to snuggle up with

Adding softness and comfort to your interior is another important factor to make you feel more at home. Drape some chunky knitted throws over your sofa and add plenty of cosy layers to your bed. No space will feel cold and unfriendly when dressed up with beautiful blankets. Not got much space in your suitcase while traveling? Invest in a super soft cashmere throw which could double up as a cosy blanket on a long haul flight.

digital nomad lifestyle items
This beautiful soft cashmere scarf will be your snuggle blanket on the go! €49.73
Digital nomad lifestyle items

Familiar photos or prints on the wall

When you move into a new house or flat, the space can feel very alien for a while. Everything is unfamiliar. One of the first things you could do to make your home feel like yours, is to put up some pictures. Create a gallery wall full of family photos or hang your favourite artwork in a prominent place. Add a few large plants and look how you have already transformed the place. If you are traveling or living somewhere for a short period of time, carrying picture frames around with you is probably not an option. Try using other items, such as postcards or smaller pictures, which you could hang with pegs on a piece of string pinned onto the wall.


Your favourite coffee mug to make you feel at home

Nothing beats the feeling of being at ‘home’, or at ease, like a hot cup of tea or coffee in your own special mug. Sitting back, enjoying the view out of your new window and taking it all in. I know it was one of the first things I unpacked after moving last year. If you can pack your favourite mug and bring it with you when away from home for along period of time, it sure soothes any homesick feelings you may have. Choose something sturdy that won’t break easily in transit. Good old Denby mugs are a good bet when it comes to resilience. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your favourite tea either. Enjoy your cuppa!


Digital nomad lifestyle items
Denby mugs in lovely colours. Heritage Fountain Cascade Mug €14.00

Vintage furniture in a new built home: house tour

I decided to do a little house tour today, of our rental home in Spain. It is usually a mess, as anyone with young children knows it is an eternal war zone living with too many toys – and very small boys. I took these photos recently so we could advertise our house on a holiday home exchange website. (Whether you sell your home or otherwise promote your house, tidying up for the photos is a must!). Here is our eclectic mix of vintage furniture in a new home.

Boho decor in new house

It is in some ways funny to see our vintage furniture in a new home, as supposed to our old 1930s granite house in Scotland where we were before. Still, it was surprising how it somehow looks as if it belongs here. The white new built box we live in now provides a nice blank canvas to show off our vintage furniture and artworks.

The design of our rental house is almost modernist in a way, open plan, with a mezzanine opening to the next floor. Large windows. We love the style of architecture, although with two noisy boys you can imagine sound travels easily in such an open space! It is also quite a cold house in winter, with any heat going straight upstairs. Nevertheless, it is a great, spaceous home for us to live in right now.

vintage furniture in new homeboho decor in new house

Midcentury sideboard in a new built home

We added a few pieces of furniture we didn’t have before, including the white lights above the dining table. We also added a vintage painted sideboard to our interior, which we bought from Back to Life Furniture in Aberdeenshire, just before we left last year. As we had a giant artic truck coming to move us to Spain, we decided to make use of it! I love the way Lynsey painted the drawers and outside of the midcentury piece white and adding with subtle stripes to the doors, changing the look completely.

Vibrant paintings in a Spanish home

We also brought quite a few large paintings and framed prints to Spain. The vibrant painting of the jazz band above the sideboard I always loved, but it never looked quite at home in Scotland. Just a bit flamboyant. It is by a South American painter called Yvonne Mora and it looks so much more at home in Spain! I am so glad we kept it. It means even more to me now I have found a new Spanish band in Valencia and continue to sing (in English though, my Spanish is not up to singing standard yet!).

The large green artwork behind the dining table is a 1966 original print by the late Aberdeen artist Pauline Jacobsen. I once bought it at auction for just £25… I instantly loved the midcentury feel of it and I am so glad we now own it. It is one of two…I wonder where its twin is…? Does anyone know?

No hallway? What about the shoes!

As with many Spanish houses, there is no vestibule or hallway. You open the front door and you’re straight in! This means tidying up is pretty vital in the entry area, with jackets, shoes, cycling helmets and school bags. I bought a coat stand and recently decided to move one of my vintage chests of drawers downstairs as well, to help keep most of the stray stuff out of sight. I think the vintage furniture in our new home goes quite well. The painting above it? Another wonderful Scottish artwork (by Ian W. Paterson) I found on one of my treasure hunts, at a book fair this time.

vintage pieces in new home

boho decor in new house

A large sunny loft space

One of the perks of this new built house in the suburbs of Valencia is its large attic space. It has become a very versatile room, for the kids to play in as well as for guests to stay. Our cat also loves it up here. Peaceful! Sometimes – when I feel disciplined – I roll out my yoga mat once the kids are at school and before I start work. I open the door onto the roof terrace to let the sun in. Bliss. In summer it turns into an oven up here, but right now in winter it is pleasant and warm.

mustard yellow bedroom

Craving for colour

Living Spain has made me want to use more bold colours in my interior. I probably wouldn’t have chosen these bedroom curtains back in Scotland, but here they look fabulous in the bright sunlight. The vintage mustard yellow Welsh blanket is only used in the winter months, as it’s airconditioning on and thin sheets all summer! The artwork above the bed is a relief print by Scottish artist Francis Boag.

mustard yellow bedding

As we are renting this house, it is tricky to make it completely our own. I probably would change a few wall colours or be a bit more adventurous with putting up shelves and pictures, but I mainly used existing picture hooks. The walls are also different here than in the UK and much harder to drill into. Don’t want to make a mess of it! We did use some heavy duty Command strips to hang up white board and pictures on the tiled wall in the kitchen.

white kitchen cabinets

Rescue plants from Scotland

The terraces are filled with mediterranean plants. It even has two plants I once rescued from a dark old house in North-east Scotland, when I was on one of my vintage furniture buying trips. It turns out that they are a money plant and a rubber plant, both native here in Spain. They are literally growing arms and legs and obviously very happy to be in their natural habitat.

mediterrenean garden ideas

roof terrace ideasbalcony ideas

How to create the perfect gallery wall layout

Art is my go to ingredient whenever I want to refresh my decor. I always seem to change pictures around! But a beautiful artwork can really make a difference in your home. How do you style your home with art? Here are some inspirational ways to group art together and create a gallery wall layout. Find some ideas to display pictures, frames, prints and paintings large and small, around the house.



Forgotten corners: turn them into galleries

Image: pinterest


Hang it like you play Tetris

We all have places in our house we don’t really use for anything. Maybe part of the hallway or a corner in the living room. Give these empty spots a job and some interest and use them for displaying art. Floor to ceiling, combine small and larger frames and create an eye catching mini gallery. Start with the bigger frames and fill up the spaces around it with smaller ones. It’s like playing Tetris!


Group colours or themes together

Got a batch of black and white photos? Maybe some pencil sketches and drawings? Or some monochrome abstract prints? Combining art in similar colours can produce a striking result. You can create a beautiful gallery wall layout like this.

gallery wall ideas

Buy these six prints as a ready made collection on Etsy

gallery wall ideas

Set of ten monochrome prints ready to buy on Etsy



It doesn’t need to hang perfectly

I know a lot of people get nervous when thinking about hanging multiple frames together. How do you get them in a straight line? If you are one who cares about perfection, check out this tutorial. Otherwise, relax! Frames don’t need to hang perfectly straight if you are going for the ‘boho’, eclectic look. They look good anyway. If you’d rather have a perfect grid, scroll down for some layout templates. Best thing is to lay out all frames on the floor first to decide on what goes where. Then, measure from the top of the frame to where it hangs from, to know where in the wall to put the nail. (Don’t want to use nails? I use some great alternative picture hanging strips in my rental just now!)

Gallery wall set
Image: pinterest
ready made gallery wall set
Buy this gorgeous ready made set of five prints on Etsy

Gallery Wall Layouts

Do you like to know what you’re doing? Need a bit of guidance? I understand. Here are some Gallery Wall Ideas and suggestions for layouts to help you figure out how to hang art on your wall.

Gallery wall grid

Your taste…makes a great collection

You know what? As long as you select what you love, you’ll probably find that the art you own goes pretty well together and makes a fabulous, cohesive group on the wall. Gather lots of smaller framed pictures and one or two larger ones and create a cloud of artworks on one wall. Remember: pencil drawings, black and white photographs, a kids finger painting, a frames dried flower…it could all work well together.

Not got enough art to do create a gallery wall layout? Try framing some beautiful wallpaper, fabric, a vintage photograph or eye catching concert poster. Don’t forget the cute abstract scribbles from your children. Anything goes when putting your colourful creative gallery wall together. Don’t be afraid, just try things out. You’ll be surprised how good things look in a frame.


How to hang a picture