Posts Categorised: Interviews

Interview with BBC 1’s The Instant Gardener Presenter Danny Clarke

If you’ve watched BBC1’s The Instant Gardener, you’ll have seen some amazing transformations made by Danny Clarke and the team. Bringing unloved outdoor spaces back to life and making the owners really happy. I love it. So, who better to answer some gardening questions at this important time of year than Danny himself ?

Instant Gardener BBC1 Danny Clarke

How did you get in to gardening and then television presenting ?

Although I had a passion for gardening, my career in horticulture started by accident. Unfortunately a sales company I ran for many years hit upon hard times. A friend of mine had a landlady who was looking for a gardener to help in her plot one day a week and asked if I was interested in working for her. After meeting Jo I was bowled over by her larger than life character and took on the job while still being involved with my sales business. Jo who had a passion for gardens and gardening had extensive knowledge. She was a great teacher and I absorbed as much as I could. What Jo didn’t know about plants could be put on the back of a postage stamp.

Over a period of time I got approached by people to maintain their gardens and soon I made the decision to concentrate on horticulture and kicked the sales business permanently into the long grass. It was a no brainer really as now I was doing something I truly loved.

I have always had an interest in design whether it be gardens, interiors, fashion or architecture. So I enrolled at Hadlow Horticultural College and did a one year garden design course. This gave me the confidence to design and build gardens along with maintaining them.
The television gig came about as a result of my trading title which is The Black Gardener. I received a random email form 12Yard Productions who wanted a black gardener to present a gardening show ( The Instant Gardener ) which had already been commissioned by the BBC. Someone in their development department googled the name and hey presto my website appeared. I did the screen test which was successful and it all went from there.

Garden redesign Danny Clarke Instant Gardener BBC1

Which have been your favourite projects so far on The Instant Gardener ?

My favourite project on The Instant Gardener was for Shirley who lives in Manchester. She is a gamester who is mad for the Doctor Who tv series. It seemed pretty natural to design a themed garden based on the time lord. I cut three concentric rings into the lawn. We put slate chippings in the centre and middle strip which were contained with aluminium lawn edging to denote the universe. Random planting of round topiarised standard privet balls and small conical shaped yew trees into the area represented planets and rockets.

A wonky five sided arch made from fence posts constructed by AJ  the shows handyman was securely placed in the centre. This was the time portal that would cause Shirley to disappear into another dimension if ever she walked through it. Her shed was painted blue to mimic the Tardis. A narrow strip of the same colour was repeated on the decking by the rear patio doors which became the landing pad if ever the doctor should choose to visit. It was great to get the opportunity to show that gardens too can have humour.

At this time of year, what would you recommend we start preparing in the garden ?

The best time of year to prepare your garden for the coming year is in the winter. It’s a great time to take advantage of the dormancy. This is the season to repair fences, cut back plants that have finished, enrich your soil, prune perennials, weed, divide and plant bulbs. For me it’s the opportunity that shouldn’t be missed otherwise you may spend the spring playing catch up to get your space ship shape.

The Instant Gardener BBC1 Danny Clarke Interrview

What tips would you give to someone with a small garden to give the impression of space ?

When giving a small garden the illusion of space it’s important to think big. By this I mean try and put the largest plants and objects such as pots into the area. This way the boundaries will be blurred and your eyes will be concentrated on whats happening within the plot rather than taken to the edges. Buying one large plant can prove to be more cost effective than several smaller ones. And the same principle applies to pots.

Instant Gardener BBC1 Images Pond Redesign

Equally, how do you make a larger garden aesthetically pleasing ? 

My pet hate is to see narrow borders. Your garden as far as I’m concerned is about the plants. They shouldn’t be lining up like soldiers on duty along the border. They will look and grow at their best placed in the ground further into the garden. This will give your space a more aesthetically pleasing look and will free them from competition posed by a fence, wall or hedge which they will definitely thank you for.

If someone is looking to extend there living space through to the garden, how can they achieve this ?

A simple way to extend the living space into a garden is to repeat or mimic whatever is in your home to the outside. For example the flooring by the indoors can be of similar material to the patio. Repeat colours in your interior walls to a fence or shed. This will give your property a bit of joined up writing by extending the eye line and give the whole property the illusion of seeming larger than it really is. Another good idea is to place the same plants with identical pots in the home and garden.

Which plants and flowers do you recommend  for this time of year to add lots of colour ? 

March is such an optimistic time of year with the promise of what’s to come. A fab way to release those winter blues is to make sure you have plenty of colour in your garden at this time of year. Hellebores, Chaenomeles ( Quince ), Magnolia under planted with Primulas, Ophiopogon ( black grass ), Pulmonaria ( lungwort ) and Heuchera are particular favourites of mine.

For novice gardeners such as myself – which are low maintenance plants ? 

Most shrubs and ornamental grasses are low maintenance. However there are three in particular that will give you stunning season long colour that I would recommend. They are jasmine plants where you have winter and summer options. These only need the odd drink of water in dry spells.

Lavender will withstand the sunniest of areas and poor soil. The only maintenance needed here is a trim after flowering and a spot with good drainage as they don’t like their feet languishing in water.

I’m a massive fan of grasses and Stipa arundinacea is a particular fav of mine. As an evergreen it gives all year round colour turning from green in summer to a yellow and orange with red streaking in the winter months. In August it produces sprays of feathery flowers. If you’re in any doubt what to put next a plant a grass will often do as they provide great contrast to its neighbour.

Danny Clarke BBC1 Instant Gardener

What projects are you currently working on ? 

I am currently working on a garden design and build project near Croydon. It’s been very enjoyable and provided me with work over the winter months. They wanted me to take my cue from their neighbours outside space which has been done to a good standard. So you might say it’s next doors plot that gave me inspiration for the build. The hardlandscaping is almost complete and the plan is to undertake the planting at the end of April. I’m also going to be involved in some more telly very soon for the This Morning show where I makeover a garden for an unsuspecting mum for Mothers Day.

Can you offer advice for anyone wanting to go down the horticulture route ? 

Horticulture for me isn’t a job but a way of life. I love it with a passion. And my advice to anyone coming into it is to make sure you have a real joy for the industry. Particularly as it’s unlikely to make you a millionaire. But then again who knows and cares.

A big thanks to Danny for answering my questions and offering up some great garden inspiration. You can find out more about Danny on his website.

Do you have any extra Spring gardening tips ? Leave me a comment below. Always good to hear from you.

Inspire Me – Interview with TV Production Designer Richard Drew

Tv Production Designer Richard Drew
Have you ever wondered how a TV set is designed – the though process behind it ? Why are certain colours used in a character’s home and who develops all of this and how ?
Well, I have some answers here for you courtesy of TV Production Designer Richard Drew who has worked on many shows in his extremely established career including The Inbetweeners, Smell of Reeves & Mortimer, Man Down, Alan Partridge, Ratburger, Walliams and Friends, Sick Note, Stath Lets Flats …the cv is wayyy too long to mention everything.

It seems like the perfect time to chat with Richard and discover some tricks of the trade as he is just about to celebrate his 30th year in the industry …

How did you train to become a Production Designer ?

I studied at Barking College of Technology as a 6th form student doing a Media Course in 84 / 85 – pretty progressive for the mid 80’s in East London. I did O’levels in film, television and theatre design. Then I got accepted onto a West Sussex College of Design course 85 / 86 doing a theatre design diploma, a 2 year course completed in 1. Then finally film school 86 / 88 in Newport South Wales, an HND course in film and tv practice.

I went from school right the way through without a year out and finished my education in June 1988. My first day at work for the BBC in Wales was the 8 / 8 / 88 – it’s my 30th Anniversary next month. 
But it goes further back than just the education, as a 12 year old I stood on a professional stage for the first time as an amateur performer and was totally transfixed. Not so much with the audience and lights but was intrigued and captivated by the mechanics of theatre and how it worked behind the scenes – and I loved the smell of backstage. – I still do. 

 It was my Drama Teacher at school who told my Father when I was maybe 14, that I should consider persuing a career backstage rather than trying to be an actor ( something I thought I wanted to do ) as I clearly loved the theatre and was ‘ good at art ’ but not ‘ good at acting ’ – the single best advice anyone ever gave me. I painted the boards rather than tread them.

Billionaire Boy TV Show

Is there a process when you start work on a new project and how do you decide what the characters’ homes will be like inside ?

It all starts with a script. Reading it over and over, followed by a meeting or two with a writer / director. Then finding a location which will dictate a hell of a lot. I love the back story to a character. Why are they here ? What they do for a living etc. I think about colour themes, age of the charcter… where they shop, I love giving my characters collections of things… maybe a bit of me there ?

If building a set interior I try and go for sets with depth; sexy transitions from room to room, sets wide enough that you don’t need to move walls or furniture to shoot in. It’s a lot easier to make a room feel smaller on camera than make a room look bigger. Lighting is vital, windows are useful and building a room means you can make an alcove just the right size to fit a particular piece of furniture. 

 

Comic Relief ImageDavid Walliams Lady image

Where do you go to find inspiration ?

The art world more than anything I’d say – for a designer of spaces and interiors maybe more than the architecture world, which I guess you’d expect – installation artists like Esther Stocker I really love. The Comic Relief set of 2016 was inspired by her work … a collage piece by Sharon Elphick inspired the Comic Relief set of 2013.

Street Art – I love the trend for doing art with fluorescent tape. Furniture design both good and bad. Shop window displays in general are great sources of ideas. Wallpaper patterns, shadows on the floor, the colour of the sea, fashion. Pretty much wherever you look if you’re switched on that way I think you find it.

 I think a Google image search is a thing of beauty as it opens up so many possibilities that endless library searches may never find. Graphic art is a huge influence – record covers. I’ve spent a lot of money on records in the past based soley on the cover art. I’m a bit of a culture sponge, a hoarder and have the capacity to remember and reference things not really knowing how or why it’s there other than certain things just stick. Something as varied as the typography and layout of a Live Aid poster, the colour of Tom Hanks bed in the film Big or a Tom Ford suit worn by Colin Firth at the Oscars. I don’t know whether that’s a designer thing – or a thing that I just possess – but I’ve always been very visually aware and a bit of a visual magpie ( sorry that’s a very lazy way of putting it )

Sick Note TV Programme

I’d love to know which colours you enjoy working with the most ?

I adore colour – certainly when designing the light entertainment shows I’ve done in the past ( Friday Night with Jonathan Ross – the BBC version , Your Face or Mine, Comic Relief – I’ve always gone for a set with colour – the truth is people in light entertainment particularly are quite scared of colour as there is no get out of jail card. If you have a green set, you’re stuck with a green set but if you paint the set grey and light it green, you can change it to any colour you want, which I think is a cop – out. In designing for scripted stuff I love using colour throughout –  limited colour palletes, certain colours for certain characters etc.

If you watch season one and two of Sick Note ( Sky One Season 2 starts this week ) there is no yellow on the set apart from one character who wears it and has yellow props and a yellow car. It was a decision based purely on the fact that we thought it would make that character stand out – although she’s not a main character she acts as a linchpin to a lot of the story. I once did a kids show years ago which was like a Japanese Anime and the only colours I used on the set were the colours of the Tokyo Subway lines. Just because. I love the meaning of colours and the way they make you feel. I love playing with colour tones also.

How would you describe your own home style ?

Ecclectric ( is that even a word ?) – colourful and spacious.

I’ve got the ubiquitous Tolix Chairs and the G plan Sideboard but its mixed with a bit of 70’s, 30’s ,50’s stuff.. a sprinkling of kitsch thrown in. A solid Ikea Bookcase and Lack Bed have been with me forever to address the balance. I’ve an Eames Lounger and Sofa that was in a famous film ( I really can’t tell you which one, no really I can’t ) and there is fair amount of film posters going on and random signage from various travels or film shoots. Christ it sounds like a hipster wet dream. Car boot finds and skip grabbed pieces fill the gaps  – a £12 1960’s coffee table sits happily on a moroccan rug.

I’ve avoided the trend for house plants as I know I’ll kill them but still have an empty Macrame basket hanging from my ceiling. I’ve got Airfix planes in my kitchen and a 1980’s ceramic Buddha in my hallway. But I love it. Of course it’s a little bit art directed. 

Billionaire Boy - Production Designer - Richard Drew

There must be some pros and cons of working as freelance designer in television ?

I’ll start with the negatives.

The hours can be brutally long Sometimes in the Art Dept it’s not uncommon to do a 14 hour day – it takes a certain person to want to commit to that. Plus as a freelancer even when back home the phone can ring at all hours – script changes at 10pm or schedule changes. I’ve often thought there should be an acceptable cut off time but when you’re knee deep on a project – it just all consumes you and you live and breathe it. It becomes normal and although we all know that it isn’t healthy we still do it.
I also don’t think that’s unique to the Art Dept. Make-Up, Costume, Lighting, Locations etc etc – we all do silly hours.
It’s often a more physically demanding job that you’d maybe expect, certainly the filming part of it.
I walked 9.5 miles in a studio fairly recenly – a studio maybe a bit bigger than a tennis court. how is that possible I didn’t go anywhere.
I was on my feet dressing a set, back and forth all day but going nowhere. 
Dressing sets / solving problems / construction managing a project takes it’s toll whether you think it does or otherwise – punch drunk in decision making. I don’t suffer fools I’m afraid so working with ‘ chancers ’ or new kids on the block who think they know everything can be very tiresome – I would say I don’t think that’s unique to television though.

Oh and you never know when the phone may ring, that can be both good and bad. I still havent got used to it either way.

The pros thankfully outweigh the cons. I’ve met a lot of truly wonderful people in my career so far. Film shoots on the whole are great environments to spend your day and although hard work, are also fun. A shoot allows you to work in amazing locations and world famous studios – my current project has me putting a set or two onto the stages at Pinewood Studios. I can’t tell you what a thrill that is to say, working at the BBC was also always a real thrill for me too.

I’ve travelled a little bit too – Rio, Tokyo, Warsaw and Beijing – to see those parts of the world from a work perspective rather than just a holiday perspective is authentic and how cities should be seen I think. I’ve worked with some immense talent and spent time with huge stars. I have to stress that this is not why I do the job but sometimes you do have to pinch yourself – ” yes that is Stevie Wonder and yes he is rehersing not 12 feet from me “.  ” Yes I’m standing on stage with David Bowie ” – ” yes I will catch Daniel Craig in my arms on this small stunt fall “…
More importantly in light of equal pay and the ‘ Me Too ‘ movement I’m incredibly proud to say that the Art Dept is a fantastic example of where male and female doesn’t matter. 

Buyers, Set Decorators, Art Directors, Prop Makers, SFX Designers, Prop Masters, Standby Props and Production Designers are just as likely to be female as male – and equally paid too. Its based on ability and nothing more.

Sick Note T V Show

Is there a particular project over the last 30 years that stands out the most as your favourite ? Why ?

That’s like trying to choose a favourite child !

I’m incredibly proud of the 5 comic reliefs and 4 Sport Reliefs I’ve designed for the BBC. I’m part of that wonderful tv family and the history of that show. Always honoured to be asked. It’s where I’ve got to flex my showbiz muscles and every once in a while it’s a good thing to brush off the glitter and mirrored floors.

The 11 O’Clock Show put me on the map as a Production Designer and was the point I stopped being an Art Director so I’ll always have a soft spot for that show. The Inbetweeners for seeing how a show nobody had heard of suddenly become a show that everyone knew  – and it’s always a nice revelation to tell younger members of a crew that I worked on it. Their eyes generally light up.

Stath Lets Flats TV Show Channel 4 designer Richard DrewCreatively. I’d say most of what I’ve done in the past 2 years on the whole has been some of the best stuff I’ve ever done. Ratburger the David Walliams book for Sky last Christmas was a dream job. I had total creative freedom thanks to trust from Production, Matt the Director and David himself – I was like a child in a candy shop on that one. A Ratburger machine that was part Heath Robinson and part Mousetrap board game. Recently Sick Note for Sky, Stath Lets Flats on Channel 4 , the new series of Alan Partridge due to air on the BBC in January and my current project ‘ After – Life ’ have all been immensly challenging but very rewarding. Building sets and dressing sets is the best for me. Creating something that doesn’t exist is still such a buzz. 

I’m fortunate to still enjoy the job as much as I do.

records vinyl collection

I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask you about your huge vinyl collection. Where do you like to go record hunting and who are you loving listening to at the moment ?

I’ve been buying records almost as long as I can remember. Whats the Abba line ? ” Mamma said I was a dancer before I could walk, she said I began to sing long before I could talk ” well that’s me I think, I’m basically Agneta from abba.

 The collection is close to 4000 now and has no desire to stop growing… 
If designing is my love then music is my passion. I’m not someone who buys for value, I buy to complete a set or because I love a partiular track or I just like the cover. There can be a million reasons I buy but ‘ its resale value ’ isn’t one of them. Because of this, my taste is wildly eclectic.
For example last week at a charity shop in one swoop I bought a Hazel Dean hi – energy 12” , a UB40 12”, a Todd Rundgren album a Nat King Cole album and a 70’s album by a French band called Space. Magic Fly is the song you would know – trust me.
Sure I have genres I prefer – disco, dance, electronic, synthwave, soundtracks, brit funk, and indie but that doesn’t stop the Rouge Country Albums and Jazz albums creeping in or a bit of folk. Anything goes to be honest, I’m unashamedly first and foremaost a pop fan. I go to at least a dozen gigs a year, recenly Gary Numan, MGMT and Orbital so of course I’ve been out and bought some of those albums to join some dots. I’ve recenly being listening a lot of Imagination, Tiger and Woods, Roosevelt, Hall and Oates and Faithless.

Could you offer some advice to anyone wanting to get in to your industry ?

No matter what anyone tells you getting a foot in the door is all about timing. Yes you can study at some amazing courses – particular shout out to Lucy who runs the BA Hons in theatre at Wimbledon and David who runs the tv production course at the National Film School but those courses not so much arm you with the tools but put you in the right place to be noticed. Talent sometimes doesn’t come into it.

 I found out fairly recently that the criteria for me getting on my film school course ( over 1500 applicants for 14 places )  wasn’t whether I was any good but whether I was employable – I’ve often wondered what they saw in me and now I know it was simply that I was marketable.. 
So when I say timing I can only say that the last 3 incredibly brilliant Art Directors I have employed have called me just as I was looking for someone – it was only after they contacted me did I check a cv and get references – it was just down luck sometimes
Don’t be  disapointed if you send out 200 cv’s and nobody replies. Send 200 more. Do low budget jobs, do no – budget jobs – put yourself out there. The more people you meet the more opportunities you create. One day it will work in your favour.
 It happened to me – I did a low budget 2nd world war film at film school in my final year. I hired some costumes and got chatting to the Costume Assistant who got me a meeting with a Senior Costume Designer who got me an interview with the Senior Production Designer who got me a 4 month contract fresh out of Film School.

 The film school put me in the position to visit the costume store but the rest was just good timing and luck.

What are your upcoming projects for the rest of 2018 ?

The shortest answer I’m going to give.

I’m doing a big theatre stand-up show for Jimmy Carr in Dublin in September – a Netflix Special and October will always include work on the annual Halloween party for Mr Jonathan Ross. Which is where I get to flex my dark side. But in terms of scripted stuff nothing as yet. There are a few things bubbling away so for the time being I’m okay. I’ve done a small amount of lectures at Wimbledon Art College and been a mentor at the National Film School – maybe its time to get the mortar board and gown from the loft again ? It’s also a good time to do galleries and exhibitions.

 I try and make the theatre design degree show every year and also the film school degree show, I jokingly tell people I’m only there to steal ideas but I love talking to design students, you know when you’ve met a really good one.

A massive thank you to Richard Drew for such an insightful view in to his work background. Wishing him a very happy 30th year in television. 

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about behind the scenes on TV sets ? Do stop by and leave me a comment if you’d like to. Always love to hear from you.

Lucy x

All images copyright Richard Drew 2018: 1. Richard Drew, 2. Billionaire Boy, 3 & 4. Sport Relief, 5. Sick Note, 6. Billionaire Boy, 7. Walliams and Friends, 8. Stath Lets Flats, 6. Richard Drew’s vinyl collection.

Inspire Me – with Love Your Garden’s Katie Rushworth

kite rushworh gardener presenter tv gardening tips advice

If you are a fan of ITV’s Love Your Garden like me ( many happy tears have been shed watching the transformations ) then I’m guessing you will be inspired by my chat with resident presenter and garden designer on the show – Katie Rushworth.

Wanting some advice on what to plant this Autumn or how to prepare for next year ?

Look no further …

Which are your own personal favourite colourful Summer flowers and plants ?

Oh gosh this is so hard, I love so many and all for different reasons. It’s like asking someone what their favourite song is. Today I am loving my Nepeta govaniana is has a lovely natural look and delicate lemon flowers. I’m also excited to see my Molinia ‘Transparent’ sending up its wonderful flower spikes, and I have a new love for the shrub Styrax japonicus – it is just so damn pretty !!

You’ve created some amazing spaces with the Love Your Garden team  – which has been the most challenging so far ?

They are all difficult in some way or another, every garden has its foibles – the thing that can make an easy or a tough build is really the weather. Trying to do any hard landscaping in the rain is almost impossible and the site turning into a mud bath isn’t helpful. Luckily we don’t have too many off these to overcome but when we do it’s a race to the finish line and we’re always exhausted.

Which flowers and plants combined would make the perfect British colourful Summer Garden ?

That’s a tough one too as it totally depends on your taste. You could have something harmonious with pale pinks, blues and purples – or something vibrant and dynamic using purple orange and red. I often encourage people to buy what they love and not forget the importance of attractive foliage, it’s around for much longer than the flowers of a plant. A good mix of shrubs, perennials and one or two colourful annuals should give you a diverse pretty border with form and a long period of interest.

What are the best plants to encourage bees and other wildlife in to your garden ?

Cotoneaster horizontalis and Ivy are excellent for pollinators as are Lavender, Monarda, Verbena bonariensis, Foxgloves, Echinops, Buddleja, Scabious, Crab apples and Eryngium.

mediterranean plants design garden

If someone wanted to create a Mediterranean or Moroccan look with our unpredictable UK weather  – could it work and which plants would you recommend ? 

Yes it could absolutely work – Things like Olives tress, Canna lillies, Astelias, Callistemon, Actinidia,  Passiflora caerulea and various palms would create just that look. In the north of the UK however some exotics will not like the cold so always check the label to see how frost hardy the variety is that you choose. Plants that won’t tolerate frost can be moved into a green house or conservatory over the Winter if you have one.

garden design flowers pretty

How would you describe your garden ? 

A bit of a hotchpotch if honest, I just stick stuff in when I have the time and it kind of has to look after itself. It’s full of plants and flowers and generally looks pretty but I don’t really have the time to dedicate to it at the moment – if I’m not away filming with work I’m at home being a mum as well as running my business so I’m pretty ruthless with it; if something doesn’t perform well it gets whipped out and replaced.

katie rushworth garden chairs pretty english

Is your home inspired by the outdoors?

Absolutely ! I love anything that has a link to the natural world. I think bringing the garden into your home and the home into the garden is a boundary that should be blurred – when the two are connected whether by plants, materials, patterns or colours it leads to a more cohesive, holistic and I find a more creative environment.

flowers plants advice pretty colours mediterranean

Where does a complete gardening novice begin? It seems overwhelming ! 

Find out what kind of soil you have and how much sun your garden gets; these two nuggets of information will save you time and effort when buying plants. For example, if you know you have lots of sun and free draining soil then Lavender will do brilliantly !

Could you offer a few crucial do’s and don’ts to keep the garden alive right through to Autumn ?

Autumn is a great time to plant new plants, and access the skeleton of your garden. Have a good tidy up, by cutting back, sweeping leaves and get rid of things that haven’t done so well. You can also divide herbaceous perennials at this time of year giving you lots of new plants for free. Lawns don’t enjoy being walked on a great deal in the cold and wet and any Spring flowering shrubs need to be left alone if you want them to flower the following year. ( if they need pruning do it immediately after they have flowered in the Spring ) And finally – plant tulips in pots LOTS of them ! When they are coming up in Spring move the pot so you can see it when you’re in the house – it will never fail to make you smile !

Katie rushworth gardening book advice tips gardening

You have written a book called ‘ Plants, Beds and Borders ’ how long did it take to put together ?

It took about between 9 and 12 months all together including photography and editing. It was hard work – but I’m really proud of it.

Thank you so much, Katie for the advice and tour around your own garden. I’m going to give the Autumnal tips a go this year.

You can find out more info on Katie’s book here.

I’d love to hear from my readers whether they are keen gardeners or novices like myself ? Leave me a comment with your thoughts under this post or just to say hi !

Lucy x

All images are copyright Katie Rushworth 2017.

Inspire Me with Jackson and Levine on their Debut Habitat Collection.

Linen tableware Eclectic dinner party

There’s no stopping Laura Jackson and Alice Levine. Not only do they have their own very successful careers broadcasting on television and Radio 1 respectively. They also run the the very cool London ‘ Supper Club ‘, have written a book to inspire the perfect dinner party and now have their debut collection for Habitat.

I love the Habitat designs and so had several questions for Laura and Alice about their journey together and how they manage it all …

Striped linen tableware retro

Where did you originally meet and how did you decide to work together ? 

It’s a romantic story. We met at a jumble sale about 5 years ago when we had stalls next to each other. We pretty much talked about food non-stop the whole time and became friends following – going to new restaurant openings together and also trying out new recipes on each other. We then decided it would be fun to take on the challenge of setting up our own supper club together – hosting evenings in our apartments that would bring together strangers over food, drink and music. We both work in TV and Radio and this is a great change from what we do day – to – day and is a real passion project. Held every 2 months in a warehouse in Haggerston, we seat 16 people around our communal table and serve up seasonal treats from our kitchen. In the past we’ve made ricotta filled ravioli with deep fried sage, hare ragu and lemon posset amongst other things. We always try and source ingredients locally or celebrate the great produce around us by using neighbourhood bakers and wine merchants.

How did your famous Supper Club evolve in to working on a range with Habitat ?

When we started our supper club, we got a bit carried away on guest numbers for our first event meaning that we didn’t actually have enough crockery ! So we basically approached Habitat with a bit of a love letter email to ask if they would be up for potentially giving us some spare dinnerware that we could use at the supper clubs. We didn’t actually expect them to come back however they did and sent us some beautiful hand-glazed tableware which was a bit of a result ! As the supper clubs have grown in popularity over the last few years, Habitat has helped us out with a few different events and we both love the focus that Polly Dickens, Habitat’s Creative Director, has put back onto hand-crafted textiles and ceramics in the collection. This hand-crafted look has always been a key visual element of our supper clubs and last year we got discussing a potential product collaboration with Polly – and the rest is history !

Supper club essentials relaxed dinner party

What reaction have you had so far to your new Habitat range ? 

We have been thrilled with the reaction to the range – it’s become one of Habitat’s fastest selling kitchen linen collections so we are genuinely delighted! When we started the project, Polly suggested working with a khadi based fabric from India, made using traditional skills that are becoming less commonplace due to mechanisation. This means that each piece is entirely individual – not machine uniformity – and the cloth has a wonderful loose quality that gives a relaxed, informal feeling to it. You can see that human hands have worked on these products and we think this is what people are really liking about the collection.

Did a particular era inspire the range and why ? 

We tend to bring a lot of different ideas to each supper club that we produce – we like to make each one entirely individual so we don’t necessarily have a house ‘ style ’ that defines us – so the whole process began with us producing a mood board that included design inspiration from ornate Chinese wallpapers, delicate 1900’s embroidery and French fashion illustrations to botanical prints and floral sketches. Working with Habitat – especially their Pattern Designer Martha Coates – we started to narrow these conceptual ideas down to focus more on botanicals as we both felt it appropriate as it gives a nod to the foraged herbs we use in our cooking and table decorating.

Were you both involved in the design process?

Yes – it was a really fascinating process working alongside Habitat. We wanted a range of products that would be classic, chic and timeless – products that would appeal to everyone and that were genuinely useful. We wanted the linen to be washing machine friendly, so it could be washed hundreds of times and still retain its shape and beauty. We knew we wanted to have a print – which we worked on with Martha – but in terms of colour, we wanted a cool, neutral base and a stripe to underpin the whole collection – allowing you to layer colour on your table on top. The apron was also a massive triumph for us as we spend most days in the kitchen wearing aprons but we’ve never struck on the perfect design that is simple, stylish and practical. If you’re spending a lot of time lovingly preparing something, then we think you should you have something equally lovely to wear and hopefully we’ve achieved that !

With radio and tv presenting – how do you find the time for designing this gorgeous Habitat collection and running Supper Club ?

Haha – the secret ? A lot of our Rocket Fuel cocktail to keep us going ! It’s been quite a whirlwind year – we’ve just launched our first recipe book  – Round To Ours – too alongside the collection with Habitat so it’s been a lot of hard work but a lot of fun as we’ve done it all together. We both really enjoy the spontaneity of ‘what’s next’ and love being busy – never say no and always say ‘ why not give it a go ? ’

Blue plate for dinner party

If you were holding a Supper Club for colour lovers which pieces from your range would you use and what menu to accompany it ? 

The printed napkins look amazing with coloured glass or a glazed plate in a punchy pigment. The radish, radicchio and sweet pecan salad we created for Habitat is almost too pretty to eat – a total pin up of a plate with all the pinks.

What are your tips for creating the perfect atmosphere when hosting a Supper Party ? 

  • Making the table look striking doesn’t have to cost a fortune – sprigs of herbs as place settings are a lovely touch and make the table smell wonderful. Flowers and houseplants can make a huge impact on a room – we have hung giant alliums from the ceiling, had a regimented row of dusty pink hydrangeas in pots and pressed auburn Autumn leaves to scatter on the table. For something inexpensive – separate out a bunch of flowers into individual stems and place in glass jars or just use foliage on the table for a fresh green look.
  • Ambiance is very important – you want everyone to feel welcome and relaxed. No one ever felt that way by sitting under a 100w central light! Soften the room with table lamps and lots of candles. Music can also make or break the night – if you’ve run out of time to curate the perfect party playlist, stream one of your favourite movie soundtracks or check out the ‘ Mood ’ sections of Spotify.
  • If we’re cooking a menu for friends we’ll always ask what their favourite ingredients are and work up a menu around those. It’s a really nice touch to do this – it shows you care and have made an effort and means they don’t have pretend to love tripe! The same goes for drinks. Find out their favourite cocktail and as soon as guests arrive, make sure they have a drink in hand. In the summer, we make up large jugs of gin, elderflower cordial and prosecco with lots of ice. It’s much better than fussing with making individual cocktails.
  • Don’t get bogged down with the food being perfect – rough and rustic is perfect for a dinner party. Try sharing platters rather than plating up everyone’s portions individually as it really creates a more intimate, shared experience that will make everyone feel part of the dinner. Everyone likes seconds so make more than you think you need.
  • Try not to be chained to the oven – the best way to do this is to have some elements that can be made in advance or that just require compilation. We find serving a cold starter and cold dessert makes life a lot easier. Timing food for big numbers can also be daunting – so try cooking a large cut low and slow. Lamb shoulder or silverside of beef are great ones for a crowd and they just get better and better, so even if guests are little late they will have a melt in the mouth meal.

Can you both describe your style in 5 words ? 

It changes all the time.

Dinner party inspiration food book retro textiles habitat

Will there be any more collections for Habitat ?

Stay tuned! We both loved the process of designing a range with Habitat so hopefully there is more to come next year !

Big thanks to Laura and Alice. It’s made me hungry !

What do you think of the Jackson and Levine Habitat Collection ? Has it inspired you to run your own Supper Club ? It has me.

Do leave me a comment under this post. Would love to hear from you.

Lucy x

Inspire Me – With Furniture Designer Tom Raffield

tom raffield

Just recently I was watching Grand Designs and was mesmerised by this really cleverly constructed house set amongst nature in Cornish Woodland . Built with wood, using the art of steam bending – Tom and his wife Danie spent three years working on their project which would ultimately be their home.

I have to say, I think it is my favourite build so far. The overall aesthetic – and how they attached the new design to an older building. The result is stunning. 

Tom and Danie were also running their business at the same time as well as looking after their young family. Brave. I’m really pleased to have grabbed a bit of Tom’s spare time find out how steam bending wood works, how they held it all together during their building journey and what is happening next with their handmade lighting and furniture …

Tom, you specialise in the art of steam bending. Both in your work, selling your furniture and lighting – and of course building your own home with this technique. How did you first start using wood in this way ?

At university, I had a project on materials and as I had never worked with wood, I decided to give it a go. The obvious question then was how do you bend wood. The rest is history !

Can you explain how steam bending works ? 

Very simple; you find freshly cut good quality hardwood timber, you put it into a chamber which you then fill with steam for a certain period of time depending on the size of the timber, then you pop it out, put it into a metal strap to support it and bend it around a former so it takes the formers shape. You have to do the bending in around 1 minute, so you have to be fast. Then you put it in a drying room for a couple of days and it is ready to use.

Your home and journey of creating it were featured on Grand Designs with Kevin McCloud recently – was it a life long ambition to build your own house ?

Yes definitely. We’d be hunting for the right site for a long time, finding somewhere we could build, live and work, with land and woodland too was quite a challenge. I feel so lucky and although hard work, it was a lot of fun and very satisfying. Danie and I are used to working together but this was possibly the biggest project we’ve tacked to date, we both have a new found respect for each other, and sharing a home we’ve built together is pretty amazing.

What were the high and lows over the period of building and planning ? 

The highs tended to be the little benchmarks like getting the frame up, getting watertight, turning on the heat, then when we took the ladder away and replaced it with a staircase ! The other massive high was when we tested the steam bent cladding on the building and it worked, it transformed the building from quite an austere sharp building to a gentle and tactile form. The lows, well there was a few… the planning took so long and being cramped up in the small cottage with no inside bathroom wore a bit thin towards the end. The tyre wall was a killer and 600 tyres later we will still  never forget the physical ( and mental ) pain it caused.

I loved the overall look of the new build attaching to an older, already established house. What inspired you to fuse the two together ?

It was the idea of creating an architectural timeline… being able to identify which part of the building had been built by the original estate owners and then 150 yrs later the part which was built by us …

Did you manage to stick to the original £100,000 budget ?

Not quite. We didn’t have a clear budget at the start, this was a clever bit of tv editing. We had 100k in savings and knew we had to stretch as far as possible. When the quotes came in we thought we could bring it in for 150k-200k but it ended up going to 160k, so not too bad really. It is all down to doing most of the work and getting most of the materials from your own site  and from your own skills.

Is there any sage advice that you can offer to anyone thinking of taking on the task of designing their own home ? 

It sounds a bit obvious but I tried to treat building a house like making a really complex piece of furniture… I was so wrong ! The skill of the craftsmen is important but it is more about bringing lots of craftsmen and materials together just at the right time… Project maangement  is the most important thing which is usually the reason a project fails to happen, goes massively over budget or ends in disaster.

What wood did you use for your home  – and what do you generally use for the products that you design and sell ? 

I love using English oak and ash but we used whatever we had in our woodland which was felled and available so larch, sweet chestnut, ash, norwegian spruce, beech, oak and sycamore.

How do you manage the business between the two of you ? 

Since having baby no.3 Danie has had to take a back seat and focus on being a mum but it is great to be able to come down to the house and go through things with her as she understands the business so much so is a real help. We also do a lot of the designing together. A part of the business we both love and work well together on this.

Now that we are firmly in 2017 – what are you plans for this year ?

I no longer have the house as a distraction so the business is the focus. It is doing so well but is incredibly demanding; there are never enough hours in the day! That said I absolutely love what I do and feel passionately that through the products we create we are doing something very special and I am proud of that. I think this year will be all about developing new products and ideas based around using wood in ways which defies belief, new products which are based on craftsmanship, provenance and innovation ! We are going to be doing an exciting installation for London Craft week and all of our furniture is launching with John Lewis in the next few weeks which we cannot wait for.

Thanks, Tom !

If you would like to know more about Tom Raffield’s Luxury Lighting and Furniture Designs then you can find everything you need to know here at www.tomraffield.com 

Hope you enjoyed this interview ? Have you ever dreamed of building your own home ? I certainly have ! Do leave me a comment under this post  – I’d love to hear from you.

Lucy x

All images copyright Tom Raffield 2017.