Keeping your home clean and neat can be enjoyable and is one of the simplest pleasures, according to Cindy Harris, author of Keeping House. I agree with her up to the point where sometimes getting the house to a standard that’s good enough, is really enough for most of us.
Few have time to worry about cleaning the silver or sourcing the perfect stain remover, although generally we feel better when our homes are clean and tidy. Bu there’s a limit, however, to how much can be achieved alongside working outside the home, child-rearing and the multitude of other tasks we – it’s still women in the main – can pack into one day.
It does have to be said, though, that house-keeping used to be a career, if not a craft. Just ask any older lady who didn’t work outside the home and she’ll have an encyclopaedic knowledge of how to fix, repair and remove any domestic blight.
Harris’s book does a terrific job of drawing on this sort of knowledge and her own experience, to keep your home in perfect condition. No corner is left unscrubbed, no shelf in disarray, with tips on the maintenance of absolutely everything from your wares to laundry. But even I, with a reputation for household order amongst my friends, was intimidated by what was required of me daily before I earned a crust, let alone ate one.
Eight jobs including, ”clean surfaces and taps/faucets with a cloth soaked in a disinfectant bathroom cleaner..”, “wipe down the shower cubicle or bath after every use...”. Remember, these are her minimum and your children are probably already late for school.
Chapters on what to do weekly include 13 items like, “vacuum rugs and carpets twice a week; floors, upholstery and lampshades once a week”, “ wash the entire bathroom”. Monthly there are nine jobs, and every six to twelve months ten chores are demanded including, “move your large appliances like stove and refrigerator and vacuum and damp mop behind them”. Take heart, I’m four years behind with that one.
Just when you start to think Downton Abbey’s sainted Mrs Hughes and a flurry of maids are required to achieve all of this, Harris suggests you hire help so maybe she can’t manage it either. But in spite of that I’ll be keeping this book on my shelf because everything I might ever need to know about keeping house is in it. I’m seeing it as something like an encyclopedia on the subject to be dipped into to improve your quality of life at home as and when required — and not to add to the stress of a busy life.
Have you ever wondered what sort of homes interior professionals live in? Are they like cobblers’ children with no shoes— great at doing it for others but never getting around to doing it for themselves? It would appear not on reading Ellie Tennant’s new book on the subject.
She visited the homes of 12 on-line home interior product retailers around the world to see how they live, many in converted buildings or quirky spaces like railway carriages (the owners of Mini-Moderns have one as a holiday retreat), all of them shrines to what they themselves sell.
But they all have a few things in common — a mix of timelessness and quality, practicality and comfort, and an emphasis on less rather than more. But the big surprise is that all the homes are modest in size, without a palatial apartment or mansion in sight, which shows what can be achieved in smaller, though not too small, spaces. The leit motif is quality environment trumps excessive space.
Two unexpected inclusions in the book are helpful hints from the home owners on how to achieve their looks, with lists of their favourite e-boutiques, and advice to anyone setting up an online home interiors shop, with comparisons to platforms like Shopify and Etsy.
These practical details turned what seemed initially a picture book of how other people live, into something that is part decorating book, part shopping directory. Interior voyeurs and anyone aspiring to having a home interiors e-business are in for a treat.
This is a book about cosiness for home interiors’ enthusiasts who love to pick up woodland vegetation, bits of fabric and bric-a-brac, and how to introduce it indoors with style. Typical of Selina Lake who likes her pretty, romantic and vintage style, it’s rather like a blanket and hot chocolate in book form, with the additional comfort of knowing that what the author suggests is achievable with time on your hands and motivation, but with little strain on your wallet.
It speaks of homemade and home spun, a look for the shabby chic or over-decorated, over-accessorised space, but Lake also introduces it into unexpected environments like minimal spaces to create a finished look that is surprisingly successful and appealing.
She also tackles other looks from Scandinavian style to rough luxury, although there’s something about how she conveys her ideas and the accompanying photography which gives the impression it’s all achieved in a stress-free manner. But what stands out is her desire that we make our homes as comfortable as possible, even if it’s just the simple matter of getting outthrows and blankets and making bedrooms as snug and inviting as possible, and also her ideas from an accessible chapter entitled, “My Ten Top Things To Do in Winter”.
Ask Santa to slip this one under the tree for the decorative art aficionado in your life. Largely a picture book, it contains 256 papers compiled by Philippa Marks, curator of book bindings at the British Library, who has grouped her selection into key decorating techniques — hand-marbled, brocade, paste, block-printed and mass produced, all of which originated in Europe, Asia and the Middle East from 16th to 20th centuries.
All are sourced from the British Library’s extensive Olga Hirsch Collection, and it’s actually Hirsch’s own story that is one of the most interesting parts of the book.
After her marriage she learned bookbinding to repair her husband’s collection of music manuscripts, and became fascinated by the decorative papers used in their covers. 50 years later she had collected over 3,000 examples which were donated to the British Museum in 1968 along with her reference library on paper making and decorating.
Worthy though all of that sounds, the book is accessible in its chronicling of the evolution and social impact of decorative papers, from their inclusion in art to their application on throwaway items like food wrappings.
There’s an engaging history detailed here of how and when they came into being, and our on-going fascination with them, even if it only involves what we paste on our walls and wrap around gifts.
Having been an ex-pat, one of the things I loved about the lead up to Christmas abroad, usually in the second week of December, was the postman’s delivery of the Cork Holly Bough. Packed into a shoe box as a jokey gift from my brother, it served as a protective lining to secure a jar of Ballymaloe Relish, a miniature bottle of Cork Dry Gin, a bag of Tayto and a small box of Barry’s tea bags.
A G&T with crisps and a good read became a pre-Christmas tradition for me, filled with nostalgia, recipes, crosswords and so many other comforting things that brought me back to childhood Christmases, with an education into local history and the fundamentally Irish way of celebrating the festive season.
It’s a feeling I had forgotten until I took to my sofa recently with a more sedate pot of tea— it was for work afterall — to read and review the ICA’s Book of Christmas. It’s a page-turner of slow, comfort reading about comfort eating, drawing on tradition and modern Christmas cooking and recipes, including some from our immigrant population.
Calm efficiency prevails as one would expect from the ladies of the ICA in this complete approach to Christmas as experienced by the organisation’s members, even extending to the addition of the musical score of Christmas in Ireland, should you fancy a sing-song on Christmas night and there’s someone to tinkle the ivories.
You can even have a go at hand-craft and knit a Santa Claus, a plum pudding tea cosy or an angel for the tree. This book is steeped in nostalgia, even recounting a Christmas story from the school text book Jimín, first introduced to the Irish curriculum in the 1900s and remaining on it for decades.
But nostalgia and tradition are the basis of Christmas preparations and relevant to everyone regardless of age and experience.
No question, the domestic goddesses of the ICA have made it an art form but in an accessible and achievable way, with reminders that this time of year is not just about shopping, gift-giving and over-indulgence, it’s also a time to reflect and give thanks.
For a friend abroad who can’t make it back this Christmas, a shoe box with tastes of home will be welcome with this book in it. Trust me, I know.