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book review

Book Review: Mad About the House by Kate Watson-Smyth

Book ReviewsAmanda Russell

With a big move coming up I was more than delighted when a review copy of Mad About The House by Kate Watson-Smyth arrived. With over 15 years writing about interiors there’s not much journalist Watson-Smyth doesn’t know about putting together a great interior. It’s a complete, how to on defining your own unique interior style to make your home work for you. Between the covers there a mine of practical good sense tips as well as advice on how to bring that extra edge of wow to your interiors.

Though I’m a designer, stylist and have forever been involved in interiors it certainly doesn’t mean I‘m not still hungry for new ways to make a house into a stylish home. Rest assured this is not glossy coffee table book packed with out of budget fashionable interior images. It’s rather more a work book, future proofed with drawings and carefully chosen photographs, coupled with good solid classic interiors advice to guide you towards defining your interior style.

The book is divided into three sections, the first leads you through the minefield of finding inspiration on the way to defining your style, which includes invaluable information on using colour. To guarantee the success of your interior projects the middle section contains a chapter on every room in the house, each covers details specific to the function of the room, along with lighting, storage and furniture. The crowning glory is found in the last section where Watson-Smyth gives the low down on top design hacks gleaned over her many years of experience.

Creating a stylish home to feel proud of doesn’t necessarily mean splashing the cash and expending eye wateringly large sums of money. This book is there to guide you through sometimes difficult style and decorating dilemmas. It helps you target the look you want to achieve in your home to reflect your own personal style while spending your budget wisely.

Mad About The House by Kate Watson-Smyth is published by Pavilion.

Here is another book review you might like, go take a look: Book Review - Making Winter: A Creative Guide for Surviving the Winter Months by Emma Mitchell

Book Review - Modern Lettering: A Guide to Modern Calligraphy and Hand Lettering by Rebecca Cahill Roots

Book ReviewsAmanda Russell

With the infinity of the holiday season stretching away into the future, I get excited there’s time to get to grips with a new hobby. Packed with all the know how to improve my hand writing, Modern Lettering: A Guide to Modern Calligraphy and Hand Lettering by Rebecca Cahill Roots, arrived in the studio at a very opportune moment. 

All this time we’ve been beavering away behind computer screens we’ve all but abandoned our handwriting skills. Meanwhile the cult of celebrating the individual has been on the rise. With its lack of humanity and the predictable regularity of computer text, our neglected handwriting, is having a moment embracing the intervention of the human hand over machine. Rather than leaving our handwriting skills dormant there’s a big move to dust off the art form and use it to create beautiful and special projects, from the heart. Imagine being able to address envelopes in a stylish and eye catching way, writing special stationary for weddings, or designing unique invitations, this book gives you all the tools.


Don’t be alarmed by the words calligraphy or hand lettering, this is the kind of lettering that excels because of its individual hand drawn quality. Within the covers you will find a complete manual to get you writing beautifully, its packed with insider know how along with plenty of detailed knowledge, making the learning process a whole lot easier. 

Full of quirky illustrations this practical workbook of how tos, gently eases you into hand lettering. Divided into sections, illustrated diagrams lead you through the basic tool kit and of the anatomy of the pen before you get started on mark making. There are practice pages for all the letters starting with how to form them including useful information on the names for each part of the letter. There are handy tips on making it your own, along with useful trouble shooting advice. 



And the book isn’t limited to the mechanics of letter forming, once you have mastered the skill there’s plenty more help on designing your page, combining different styles while exploring a variety of media. The book finishes with a plethora of beautiful examples of projects using your new skills.

If you are ready to take on the satisfying challenge of smartening up your handwriting skills while getting the individual edge, look no further than this invaluable volume. It guarantees your new skill will elicit enthusiastic oohs and ahhs of envy and admiration.

Book: Modern Lettering: A Guide to Modern Calligraphy and Hand Lettering by Rebecca Cahill Roots

Published by Batsford

Price £14.99

 If you liked this book review then why not read my book review of Garden Style: Inspirational Styling for Your Outside Space by Selina Lake

The Flower Farmers Year : How to Grow and cut flowers for pleasure and profit by Georgie Newbery

Book ReviewsAmanda Russell

Everyone loves to give and be given flowers, and if they are British grown even better. Georgie Newbery runs Common Farm Flowers and she’s used her flower farming knowledge to create the beautiful book The Flower Farmer’s Year, jam packed with sumptuous photos of British home grown flowers. It’s certainly not just a coffee table book, it’s an extensive how to guide, giving the secrets from start to finish to help you successfully grow your own cut flowers. And if you get bitten by the bug  the know how to create a thriving artisanal floristry business.

Over the past 30 years British flower growing has all but evaporated, to be replaced by supermarket flowers flown in from all over the world, arriving with their huge environmental impact. Flower farmer, Georgie asks the question why import flowers when we are perfectly capable of growing our own British flowers without damage to the environment? Georgie is generous with her knowledge and with step-by-step instructions she shows us how we can have a year round cut flower patch outside the back door. Georgie makes cut flower growing doable for both amateurs and professionals while still paying their tithe to nature .

A visual treat the pictures are of generous and exuberant confections of British seasonal flowers and foliage, rare as hens’ teeth in the high street florist. The variety of British flowers is stunning, there are fragrant sweet peas and romantic Love in the Mist, delicate roses mixed with feverfew, grasses marigolds and cow parsley.

Readable and inspirational, the book’s packed with information including tips from top gardeners and specialist growers. The chapters are handily divided to cover different kinds of plants and unusually there’s even one on shrubs for cutting. To help make the dream a reality there’s a useful resources section with advice on where to get seeds and plants. But don’t think growing all these flowers will turn you into a basket toting Marie Antoinette. The chapter on cutting and conditioning flowers finds Georgie advising, to keep flowers at their very best, cut them straight into a deep bucket of water. 

This book would make wonderful gift for any gardener or flower lover. Whether you’re an amateur gardener or aspiring artisanal florist the book wont be read just once, with it’s wealth of invaluable information and beautiful pictures you’ll find yourself returning to Georgies blooming corner of Somerset again and again.

The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit

By Georgie Newbery

Published by

If you like this book review check out my review of 'My Tiny Indoor Garden' 

Quinntessential Baking by Francis Quinn

Book ReviewsAmanda Russell

You might find it strange, a designer writing a review about a baking book, but with her serious design credentials, Frances Quinn the winner of the Great British Bake Off in 2013 has shown she’s one to watch. Since she wowed the nation with her amazing baking skills and fabulous creations the designer baker has been writing her unique baking book Quintessential Baking, while creating commissions for huge brands like Nike and Cadburys as well as celebrities and tastemakers Jo Whiley, Paul Smith and Jo Munroe.

This is a book for everyone, novice or experienced baker. With her unique imagination, designer Quinn conjures up witty bakes that could sit happily on the pages of the books of writer Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake. The book is divided into sections, a different one for each different cake type. Proportions for these ‘master bakes’ are shown in easily readable pie charts of ingredients, giving the essential know how, leaving you to concentrate on creating your own imaginative bakes.


Packed with puns her gentle humour shines through in her playful bakes. We love her witty Sandwich Toast Cakes, look again to see it’s not beans on toast but peanuts in caramel on cake. In her Cheese Biscuits she cleverly manipulates your response with her attention to detail with holey ‘cheese biscuits’ and an entire paper wrapped Brie made from white chocolate.

The images play with scale, we are spell bound by a Lilliputian vintage ice cream van, monster cornetto strapped to the roof, driving across a beech of crushed biscuit sand. The creations look doable though many will take a large investment of time, one of the simplest was a very beautiful cup cake, decorated with flower confetti scattered over the buttercream topping and when you bite into it there’s a lovely surprise.


Extracts taken from Quinntessential Baking by Frances Quinn (Bloomsbury £25.00)

Photography © Georgia Glynn Smith

If you like this post check out my post on Millinery, the Art of Hat Making

Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill

Book ReviewsAmanda Russell

If you are thinking personalizing your space on a very restricted budget is impossible, Home for Now by Joanna Thornhill is the book for you. It spotlights the challenges people are facing in housing, with astronomical house prices many are finding they have to live in temporary accommodation for much longer than expected. And even after managing to get a foot on the housing ladder, with the substantial debts incurred there is little budget left for splashing the cash when making home your own.


Home for Now has a wealth of inspirational detail and practical tips to show you how to make the most of the space you live in. The book is divided into chapters that target and analyse the needs of different living spaces with the message, plan and asses your needs before you start buying. As well as the practicalities, the book is packed with creative ideas and visuals to help you make changes reflecting your life and loves, the emphasis being very much on comfortable and stylish.


The style of Home for Now is eclectic, it’s about being flexible and taking a fresh look at what you have, can you repurpose or display it? In each chapter there are interiors make projects, refreshingly they are all hands on, using the minimum of skills to achieve stylish transformations of skip rescues, car boot finds and family hand me downs. Our favourite project is a very doable no sew chair, repainted and covered in a wild African print fabric.


Home for Now will leave the reader feeling confident about stamping their personality on their space and making home on a very restricted budget. Remember rules are there to be broken and be playful.

Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO Books (£16.99)

Photography by Emma Mitchell and James Gardiner © CICO Books

If you like this book review read my review of Making Winter by Emma Mitchell