Sunday, 27 February 2011

Kitchen design ideas :: Recycled & second-hand kitchens

Before you venture off to your local kitchen display centre, have you ever considered adapting old materials and pieces of furniture to form a new recycled kitchen or even finding a second hand kitchen?

Recycled or mix and match kitchens

Why not use an inherited piece of furniture or salvaged materials for a new purpose, mixing and matching them to form your kitchen. Many items can be used like recycled timber to make the cabinets, old wardrobes to make a pantry and even old timber trays can be used to make shelving. 

Here are just a few examples below:
image via living etc 
image via living etc
image via style files
Before and after by Dilettante Studios
Dilettante Studios have taken it one step further by using recycled pieces of timber, old doors and frames to make these interesting new kitchen cupboards. 

If this is too time consuming, or a bit too out there, another option is to adopt a second-hand kitchen.

Second-hand kitchens

Nowadays recycling businesses are more common and some even specialise in buying and selling previously loved kitchens. They can also remove your old kitchen so it can be spruced up for a new owner. You could also source a kitchen online and adapt to your kitchen space. Either way this could give you a cost effective option to finding a new kitchen. 

You will be surprised what you can find. Here is a modern design I have just found from Second Hand Kitchens.

Always talk to your cabinet maker to see how an older kitchen can be fitted to your current kitchen arrangement and layout.

If you have found a second-hand kitchen or you would just like to freshen up your existing kitchen you could always look at changing a few things with the following upgrades.

Easy kitchen upgrades:
  • Re-facing Kitchen Cabinets - Changing cabinet doors, hinges and pulls can give a kitchen a completely new look. Check with a local cabinetmaker for an evaluation to see what’s possible. There are also companies that will will re-spray your old cabinet doors (avoid particle board and fibreboard and insist on low VOC cabinetry and paint finishes).
  • Replace the cabinet hardware - Remove the old door handles and replace with a ones that fit in with the overall style of your new kitchen.
  • Replace the kitchen counter - There are solid reconstituted stone materials available to direct stick to your existing counter top. These materials are not as thick as a traditional solid surface or stone products and have been developed as a thinner material for renovating older kitchen counters. 
  • Add a kitchen island - If your kitchen has room for it, adding an island or a preparation bench can be attractive and useful. You can pick one up at a secondhand furniture store or even Ebay. If you're pressed for storage and preparation space in your kitchen this is a great option as many kitchen islands have storage that can provide you with the extra room you need for more kitchenware.
As you can see from the kitchens above most things are possible when it comes to recycled or second-hand kitchens.

Next week I will check out the options for kitchen counter top materials in more detail.

Have fun.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Cowley Manor Hotel :: Gloucestershire, England

This weekend is my wedding anniversary and I was thinking back to the places we have stayed to celebrate when I remebered Cowley Manor. Now this place would be in my top ten for decor, spa treatments, service and experience.

Cowley Manor is a contemporary-chic country house hotel and spa surrounded by 55 acres of parkland, lakes, woods and meadows in the idyllic Cotswold countryside. The weekend we visited there were gale force winds but we still managed to grab a few walks around the beautiful grounds before heading back to London.

The weather didn't really matter that weekend as the decor of this hotel helped us relax and settle in from a cold and windy winters day. With an emphasis on comfort, service and very few rules Cowley Manor was the perfect place to relax, unwind and indulge our senses.

Our room was a converted stable block (above) with the lounge, bathroom and bedroom set over three floors. The bedrooms are retreats themselves with bespoke textiles and furniture all designed by British artists and designers and oversized bathrooms complete with natural products from their C-Side spa.

The décor at Cowley Manor is colourful and eccentric. From brightly coloured geometric patterned carpets and yellow paintwork to leather padded walls and bizarre sculptures, the atmosphere is a combination of sophisticated know-how and relaxed informality.

We also had to try the C-Side Spa. It had two heated pools, a 17m green slate lined indoor pool and an elegant outdoor pool.

For an interior designer this hotel was real eye candy with its colourful decor, high ceilings, 19th-century manor house character architecture and beautiful views of the grounds

images from Cowley Manor Hotel

Though we were there to relax at the spa, lounge around the outdoor pool and sip cocktails in the bar I was still was in work mode and inspired by the beautiful architecture and how it works with the modern interior design, the use of colour, pattern, texture and all the quirky artwork.

It is an idyllic countryside experience not to be missed.

Have fun.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Kitchen design ideas :: New modern kitchens

Style apart and depending on where you live and the type of property you own there are two main types of new modern kitchen. The type that you buy as a complete fitted kitchen (fixed into position) or a freestanding kitchen or “kit of parts” that can be removed when you move on or sell your property.

New fitted kitchens

Full fitted kitchens are normally supplied as standard by developers in new houses and mostly in Australia without Low VOC [volatile organic compound] materials and sustainable principles.

These images are of new kitchens fitted to older houses and new builds that have been supplied by Cantilever Interiors, a green joinery company based in Victoria.
images via Cantilever Interiors
The advantage of these kitchens is that while they may appear to look like a normal fitted kitchen they are different because they use Low VOC [volatile organic compound] materials and sustainable principles to construct the kitchen. These have significant health and sustainable advantages by using the following:

  • Use of Plantation Hoop and Radiata Plywood for carcass construction and E0 melamine face material which comes from sustainably managed forest.
  • To protect surfaces and allow for easy cleaning they use Water-based lacquers instead of Polyurethane based products.
  • Using E0 rating board and laminate finishes where possible. This has the lowest formaldehyde emission rating possible in Australia.
  • Veneer Board using local suppliers who manufacture veneers which are harvested from managed plantations.
  • Recycled timber is used where possible.

Freestanding kitchens & instant kitchens

A freestanding or instant kitchen is a different and less traditional take on kitchen design and is sort of like buying a kitchen for life.

An instant kitchen by Hansen
In Italy I have known friends who have rented apartments where unfurnished really means unfurnished. In this case the kitchen was completely empty (no cabinets, no appliances), just the cold water tap sticking up out of the floor where a fitted kitchen once stood. Also there were no light fixtures anywhere only electrical cables protruding from holes in the walls. I was surprised that the timebr floor had not been removed!

We all know that Ikea has a fantastic business selling low cost freestanding kitchens but if you are looking for a flexible kitchen option then it is worth investing on a quality product that will stand up to being moved a number of times and be of a timeless design that you will be happy with for years to come.

Here is an example by Hansen, designed by Danish Architect Knud Kapper, it is 100% eco friendly, made of solid oak or walnut from managed forests and natural low VOC finishes.

Images via Hansen
The kitchen system contains everything you need: oven, gas jets, electric power, refrigerator and water. You can position it in any configuration, all you need is to hook it up to a water supply and connect the gas and electricity.

This style is very well suited to small kitchens, studio apartments and guest accommodation however it can be placed and orientated in anyway and there is no reason why it could not be used for larger kitchens.

Personally I prefer the freestanding option as it allows you to have a kitchen for life with the versatility to suit different home configurations.

Next week I will discuss recycled and mix and match kitchens.

Have fun.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tanjung Sanctuary :: Langkawi, Malaysia

This week, overlooking the tropical seas of north west Malaysia, two of my friends have been relaxing on holiday in the secluded Tanjung Sanctuary Resort & Spa in Langkawi.

I was planning to travel to Malaysia a few years back but changed my plans and stayed in Australia. So I was delighted to know a friend of mine was planning a holiday in Langkawi and willing to share their choice of accommodation...

Not a bad a view!
Images via Tanjung Sanctuary
This resort looks amazing, with a small number of private villas situated either on the beach or in the surrounding forest. I suspect there will be a few monkeys hanging out in the rainforest behind.

The villas are nicely decorated with timber floors and ceilings, soft colour tones and splashes of pattern and texture set against a backdrop of ocean blues and rainforest.

Well what can I say... just open your doors and enjoy nature at it's finest with that indoor-outdoor experience. I am sure they are in paradise and cannot wait to catch up with them next week. Have fun.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Kitchen design ideas :: New, recycled or free standing

Somehow we all end up gathered in the kitchen…

If you are anything like me and food and entertaining is the focal part of your home lifestyle then your kitchen will be your pride and joy and a focal part to your living, dining and outdoor entertaining areas.

If you are considering an upgrade on your appliances or a major renovation and new kitchen design then there are many things to consider that could help you save money, keep your energy bills down and create a new greener kitchen.

Over the next few weeks I will talk to you on how to create a greener kitchen that still looks stylish and also pass on some tips that may help you save a few dollars whilst doing it.

1. New

If you choose to purchase a new fitted kitchen here are a few simple rules:
  • Source all materials locally or recycle materials for a different use like recycled timber for kitchen cupboard doors.
  • Avoid particle board and fibrebaord and insist on low VOC cabinetry and paint finishes.
  • Consider more durable and water resistant bench tops from materials like recycled composite stone.

If you are removing an older kitchen you could consider asking a local kitchen recycle centre to collect your kitchen for reuse.

2. Recycled

Another option is to source a kitchen from a recycling business or online and adapt it to your kitchen space. Talk to your cabinet maker to see how an older kitchen can be fitted to your kitchen space.

3. Upgrade

Depending on the condition of your kitchen you could opt for some small upgrades like changing the splash back, replacing the counter top or changing the door handles. Again try to source all materials locally or use recycled materials and opt for low VOC materials.

4. Old and recycled free standing kitchen

Finally you could choose a more relaxed style of kitchen, one that is not a uniform fitted kitchen but instead one that shows character and history and is made up from recycled elements. Free standing kitchen items are also much more versatile.

Many things can be used to make up a free standing kitchen. For example an old wardrobe can be used as a pantry, an old palette can be used on the wall as shelving and miss matched chairs can create personality around your kitchen dining table.

Future Posts

These are just a few things to think about when you start to plan for your new kitchen and over the next few weeks I will look at each of these areas plus more in greater detail.

Have fun.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Studio Descartes :: Paris, France

Its been a couple of years since my last trip to Paris and whenever I return to see my friends and family in England I always try to sneak in a quick trip.

I love Paris... I love people watching from your street side cafe, the beautiful historic buildings, those back street food markets, strolling around art studios and the courtyards restaurant in the Marais district and spending a day relaxing with a deep tissue massage at the Hammam (Arabic steam baths) and refreshing in the tea rooms at the French Mosque (Mosquee de Paris) afterwards.

So you can image my delight when a friend of mine in Australia decided to purchase a loft studio slap bang in the heart of Rue Mouffetard in the Paris Arrondissement 5. The studio is just in front of the Patheon and a stones throw from my favourite Hammam.

The studio has been recently refurbished with a mix of natural finishes and typical Parisian features.
The tiles for the kitchen and bathroom are small "tomettes" (terra cotta tiles). Most often hexagonal in shape and red in hue. The tomette is a symbol of old Paris and la Provence, of antique and traditional houses. Antique tile sellers clean and scrape antique tomette tiles to make them ready for laying again.
The floor is a timber parquet. Being a 17th century house with a 12th century paris city wall going through it (erected by the Philippe August in 1200), it would have required some skill to lay this parquet on such an old uneven floor base.

Finally all the new painting was with Low "VOC" paint products. Just to note, normal VOC paints and oil paint products are now banned in the UK, France and the Europe.
Hammam de Paris
Le-Salon de Thé
If you are planning a trip to Paris feel free to click here for booking this wonderful character studio.

Have fun.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Renovation tips :: Low VOC and natural paints

With all the rebuilding that will begin to take place this year I thought the best thing I could do is to share a series of renovation and decoration tips.

If you are moving into a new home, decorating your nursery, renovating your existing home or just renovating some old furniture there are a few things you should consider when it comes to paints and finishes.

Materials such as paints, stains, varnishes, carpets, new furniture and kitchen joinery contain compounds that "off-gas" over a period of time producing poor air quality in your home. 

A simple example of this is the odour from fresh paint. The smell will dissipate but the compounds will continue to "off-gas" for years after the products or materials are initially installed. For more detail see the image below from Green Painters.
for more details click here at Green Painters
Believe it or not some paints are healthier than others.

I often hear people say... “I love that new home smell” when their walls have been freshly painted or when their timber floor has been sanded, sealed and polished.

That “new smell” is likely to be the product of VOC off gassing and is actually toxic gases released into the air.

You may ask what is a VOC...? 
VOC is short for Volatile Organic Compound. If you would like to learn more about air quality & Volatile Organic Compounds click here.

Otherwise I will try to explain... Regular paints, the sort we normally buy from our local hardware store, are made from a cocktail of petrol based products and chemicals and can give off differing levels of toxic fumes called VOC’s into the environment that can cause symptoms such as breathing and respiratory irritations and headaches.

From the time when these paints and finishes are applied they continue to release their highest levels of emission over the first year and then continue to release lower emissions for years after the first application.

New environmental regulations and consumer demand have led to the availability of a range of healthier paint options from organic and natural paints to zero VOC and low VOC paint products.

If these healthier paints are used along with choosing low VOC finishes, low formaldehyde materials and natural furnishings a newly decorated room should have no smell or odour.

An example of a project where I have used a range of low VOC and natural paints is “Three Little girls and a Boy named Ted”


image via Marston & Langinger

Natural Paints and Finishes
  • Many of these ingredients are made from renewable resources and natural raw ingredients such as water, plant oils and resins, plant dyes, natural minerals such as clay, chalk, milk casein, bees' wax, earth and mineral dyes.
  • These are ideal for residential applications, or for use when chemical sensitivity is an issue or sustainability is the main focus.

Zero or Low VOC Paints

  • More of a traditional water based or acrylic paint product and ideal for residential and commercial applications.
  • These products can be quick drying, better to clean and have a higher UV resistance.
  • For chemical sensitivity use Zero or Low VOC paint (less than 1 gram/litre).

Some major paint manufacturers in Australia still use tints that contain high levels of VOC'S. With all paints you can ask for a product's technical data sheet that will explain the VOC level within the product.

With products that brand themselves as “Low VOC” on the tin it is still worth checking what the final VOC level is after a tint is added. When tints are added the VOC value may increase and therefore the original VOC level cannot be guaranteed.


for more details click here at Green Painters

Another thing to think about is that just because the paint is classed "low VOC" it does not mean that the product has a low environmental impact. The whole life cycle of the product needs to be considered:
  • Does the product come from a renewable resource? 
  • How much water is needed to make the product?
  • How much energy is used in producing the product?
  • Can the product be disposed of with a low environmental impact method?
  • Can the product or it's waste be recycled?
There are now eco labels that can help you identify how sustainable a product is. This labeling system will vary from country to country but shows if a product has passed a comprehensive sustainable life-cycle based assessment.
Here in Australia just look for the label below...


Green painters and decorators are now becoming much more popular. When selecting low VOC or natural paints I always try to use green painters and tradesmen that are familiar with using these natural products. The benefits of this are that:
  • Your painter is qualified and trained to apply these products.
  • Your painter uses waste-water minimization and disposes of painting waste correctly within EPA guidelines.
  • You know that your paint will not be swapped for a cheaper brand.


  1. Natural finishes, allergy safe & toxin-free.
  2. No fumes or smells - healthier on your family and colleagues.
  3. Sustainable life-cycle managed product.

As more products are available on the market more people are asking for natural alternatives to protect the health of their children and colleagues. By selecting products that are non-toxic and low VOC you are improving the quality of your air within your home and selecting a more sustainable product.

the beautiful Sistine Chapel - painted between 1508-1512
I hope this has explained a few things about low VOC and natural paint products. Natural paints are not a new thing, they have been around for many years and used to decorate the Sistine Chapel and all the stuccos and ceilings in Europe.

Have fun.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Renovation tips :: Trade secrets for a greener and healthier home

With all the rebuilding that will begin to take place this year I thought the best thing I could do is to share some trade secrets with a series of greener and healthier renovation and decoration tips to help when it comes to redecorating or rebuilding your home.

These tips will not only create a healthier home but will reduce your bills and also save you money in the long term with a more effective selection of finishes, furniture, appliances and equipment.

I have listed a few subject ideas below and in my questionnaire at the top of my blog. Feel free to let me know if there are any other specific topics or issues you would like to me to cover.

What does "Low VOC" paint mean?
Healthy, natural and eco paints
Natural fabrics and fibres
"Low VOC" materials and finishes

How to create a greener kitchen
How to create a greener bathroom
How to choose greener appliances and equipment

Recycling ideas for the home

I welcome and look forward to your comments and suggestions. Have fun...