Catios, porches and superhighway shelving

Up until now, renovating our house has been to improve it, to make it fit our lifestyle – gaining more space, more flexibility or keeping cosy in winter. Our recent projects have included changing the doors and windows, replacing the kitchen and adding a wood-burning stove.

However, now we’re considering remodelling for a different reason, to suit our newly blind cat, Orwell.

A few months ago, he was hit by a car. The accident broke his jaw and palate, fractured his skull, left him blind in both eyes (a prolapsed one had to be removed) and he bit through his tongue. Several surgeries, tube feeding and round-the-clock care later and he’s almost like a normal cat again, albeit one that can’t see or smell.

Seeing as he became a casualty with two working eyes, his ‘new normal’ life will be as a house cat. But I’m keen for him to still be able to explore, get some fresh air and crucially, enough exercise.

Which is where the next house adaptation comes in. Our first idea was a porch. One constructed mostly of glass would create somewhere for him to hang out in the sunshine listening to birds during the day. I especially liked this design:


Design by Laurence Associates Image sourced from Houzz

However, for outside space, and hopefully a few insects to chase, we’re thinking of building a catio – a dedicated outside space where he can climb, play and listen to the world go by.

Fans of My Cat From Hell or Cat Daddy Jackson Galaxy, will already be familiar with the concept, though it’s been slower to catch on in the UK. Most catios available are basic chickenwire constructions, whereas what I have in mind is a cat pied à terre, such as the houses by Luxury Pet Homes:

I also like their concept of an enclosed cat run around a fence or leading straight from the house:

As a starting point, we’re opting for shelves by Pet Fit Designs inside for him to climb on, which, if he takes to them, will stretch around the perimeter of our living room: a cat ‘superhighway’.

cat shelvesIt’s just the beginning of our journey of adapting our house to our special needs cat, but it’s one that may be the most challenging of all: balancing form, function – and feline fussiness.

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Bakeware with a clever twist

When I replaced my kitchen, I added a couple of shelves but they weren’t for recipe books because I only own a couple. This is because I’ve never found a book with enough I’d like to cook more than once and so now, I tend to find all my recipes online. However, there’s a drawback with not always having the right size of dish or ending up with too many leftovers.

Which is why the latest ceramic dishes from Quick Recipe appealed to me. Not only do they have a QR code on the base, so scanning it with your device takes you straight to suitable recipes, each one is tailored to the dish itself.I was keen to try them (strictly out of interest and not because I’ll use any excuse to make desserts), so started with its twin ramekins.

The code on the bottom sits below a special glaze so it won’t wear away over time. I scanned it using a QR reader app on my Android phone (iPhone users can just use their camera) and hey presto, it took me to all the available recipes I could make. I chose white chocolate and raspberry cheesecakes.

There’s a shopping list you can work to in advance, a video of the recipe being made (although I found it a bit tricky to follow as it’s speeded up) and a written method.

First, I made the base from biscuits and butter and chilled it so it would harden.In the meantime, I mixed the cheesecake filling. Following the method on my phone was challenging at times – the ingredients weren’t in the order that they needed to be used, so there’s a fair amount of scrolling up and down to remember where you are in the process and what quantities to use. It would probably be easier on a larger screen or if you measured everything out at the start.Ramekins filled, they were ready to go in the oven. Again, the method isn’t as simple as it could be as the temperature for a fan oven was missing. While I usually take off 20C to adjust a normal oven temp for fan, it wasn’t clear if the temperature in Celsius was already for a fan oven or not.

In this case, I dropped the temperature and it seemed to work:Sadly, I’d run out of raspberries for the top but they weren’t too far off the picture on the recipe. And they were delicious, with no leftovers. I call that a win.

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Stylish ways to make your home safer

Can you spot the fire safety?

Sponsored post: Whether it’s a socket or a handle, we’ve all come to realise that practical doesn’t have to mean ugly. But it seems that this message has been in slow in reaching the world of fire safety.

Here’s a case in point – on finishing my dream kitchen, the first thing my other half gave me was a fire extinguisher. And a fire blanket.

After he’d batted away my suggestion that this must mean I’m a terrible cook, he encouraged me to keep them somewhere visible should I ever set the kitchen on fire.

Big hunks of white plastic cluttering up my shelves? No thank you. So they were stashed at the back of a cupboard, behind the cat food, never to be seen again.

I had a blanket ban on fire blankets

I was playing fast and loose with the rules of fire safety but at least my kitchen remained beautiful. And then I discovered another way – products that were gorgeous and safe by Jalo, stocked at HomeArama, a store that specialises in independent design brands.

Based in Finland, Jalo specialises in design-led smoke alarms, fire blankets and extinguishers, so your home can be Scandi-cool and safe. HomeArama kindly sent me products to try and I think you’ll agree that they’re anything but solely practical.

See the picture at the top showcasing a Phoenix fire extinguisher – did you spot it? It’s on the left at the bottom. Phoenix has been designed especially for the kitchen and is used like a can of hairspray, plus its contents are environmentally friendly.

The fire blankets are my favourite range – as a child of the 1980s, I love that they’re patterned with Moomins! I happily hung the Moomin Adventure blanket:

You might only associate fire blankets with chip pan fires but what’s great about the Jalo blankets is that they’re big and thick enough to wrap over your body if you need to escape the room or a building, too. So should the worst ever happen, you have some dependable, durable protection.

Finally, I fixed one of the Kupu smoke alarms in my studio – its bright turquoise colour looks great against the green walls and almost matches my clock. Not only does it not resemble a smoke alarm, it almost looks and feels like a speaker. Kupu just sticks to the surface – no mess, no fuss.

As I have a skylight in my office and the ceiling is quite low, I had to fix it vertically. However, it’s worth noting that smoke alarms should be stuck to the ceiling as per fire regulations. I’ll have to give the top a vacuum every so often to make sure the vents don’t get filled with dust.

After putting all this in place, I felt oddly reassured that I’d taken precautions against any accidents. And I hadn’t compromised on having something I didn’t like spoiling my view. Great design with a purpose is always a win in my books.

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New project: Replacing windows and bi-fold doors

There are certain home renovation tasks that I always think of as grown-up things I could never imagine myself doing. This year, I decided to take on one more of them and replace all the windows of our house as well as the sliding glass door and fixed panel that led to the garden.

The sliding door and fixed panel had always been a bugbear. Heavy, old and impossible to clean, we’d been using them for years until we realised one reason that they squeaked was that a bolt at the bottom of the sliding door had been thrown and was scraping along the track. Moving this helped but it still required using most of my body weight to open the door.

In some ways, I’m glad I’ve left this project so long because a few years ago when I looked into it, the options I was presented with in my price bracket were nearly all white or woodgrain frames. However now, more manufacturers have caught on to the demand for aluminium and anthracite grey frames, with the latter being a bestseller.

Despite having written about windows and doors, it’s only when you take on your own project do you discover everything you need to consider. I was unprepared, beyond having learned a few terms about sightlines and slave doors with which to impress the double glazing salesmen who were about to traipse around my house while exhaling thoughtfully.

One of the first decisions I made was to get rid of the fanlights. Not only did we rarely use them for the minimal ventilation for which they’re intended, they were yet another bit of frame blocking the light from our north-facing house. Instead, the PVCu windows I chose can be slightly open yet locked at the same time – perfect for a light breeze without the wind whipping a panel further open than required.

Next, I decided to get rid of a second opener for the main bedroom, so that it’d balance with the window below and again, let in more light. Finally, I swapped the bathroom’s impossible to open fanlight for a half-pane side-opener instead.

The aluminium bi-folds were more tricky to figure out. First, they all have to open the same way, meaning that if my slave door opened inward, then my bi-folds would have to stack the same way. Neither in or out opening was entirely the best option – stacking outside would take up space on the balcony, stacking inside would cause havoc with anything by the window – but in the end, we went for the latter. It’s meant we’ve had to move our curtains over by about 10cm and clear the floor of anything in the way, but so far, getting in and out of the house is infinitely easier.

So here’s the resulting whole house window swap – anthracite frames, fanlight-free and more balanced for a bit more kerb appeal:

One project rarely stands by itself, so the next task is swapping the perversely narrow front door for a new, wider one. There’s going to be masonry grinding, a few space-saving tricks and everything. Stay tuned!

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Kitchen design diary: The big reveal

Just the other day, I noticed a woman starring into my house as she was walking past. Normally, I’d think it a little bit rude but in this instance I was delighted. I may have actually grinned at her. Unless she was looking at the state of my front weed-strewn garden (next project), what may have caught her attention is that instead of a yellow monstrosity I now have a gorgeous new kitchen!

After months of dust, disaster and delays, my project is finally finished. Without any further ado, please join my neighbours in viewing the new design.
There’s still some snagging and a few cosmetic touches to add but it’s almost exactly as I imagined it. For reference, let’s have a look back at the original kitchen:

Perhaps what’s most apparent is how the space feels much bigger now, even though it hasn’t been extended. This is mainly down to omitting wall cupboards and a lighter floor and colour palette.

It’s been a long project but ultimately worth the upheaval and hassle. Plus, there’s plenty of scope for repainting the cabinetry years down the line. It’s my first, and probably my last, kitchen project, and I’m rather pleased it’s over.

Finally, it’d be remiss of me not to thanks my amazing, ever-patient and accommodating builders, South Anston.

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Kitchen design diary: No progress

Regular readers have been quick to notice the absence of a post about the progress of the kitchen, so I thought it was time I made amends.

Without wanting to delve into the minutiae, the project has hit a snafu (a word I’ve used a lot in the past few weeks), which has entailed it grinding to a halt. While it’s been frustrating and exasperating, it’s taught me a lesson I’d like to pass on.

And it’s this: it doesn’t matter how well you plan a project, how organised you are or how much you know about what you’re doing, there’s a lot you can’t anticipate.

That means ducting kits for extractors that have to be imported, electricians who turn up without the right screwdrivers, plumbers who fail to read the fitting instructions for pipework, so just leave out the bit they don’t recognise (true) and a hundred million other things that make you want to opt for a Primus stove and a toasting fork instead of a new kitchen.

Look, it also comes in blue!

In light of the lack of developments, I’ve been putting my energy into selecting pretty things that will get to live in the new room and I’d like to share those instead.

Crockery is the first thing on the list as we have very few pieces of china that don’t come with chips and cracks. I’m currently obsessed with Cath Kidston‘s Large Spray range, which I feel has the right mix of everyday practicality but would also be great for entertaining.

New wine glasses are also a must as their lifespan tends to be short. I’ve already bought these from Houseology and am itching to get them out of the box.

Finally, I always need a clock in a kitchen. As I’m originally from Sheffield, I’ve chosen the S2 by local firm, Psalt Design. I really love that it’s all made in the UK and has an elegant yet chunky feel.

More regular updates soon!

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Kitchen design diary: Slow progress

Good things come to those who wait. By that rationale, my kitchen will be amazing. Because it’s week 8 of the refit and I’ve had almost as many delays as I’ve had bland microwave dinners. Since my last post, here’s how the kitchen has been progressing…

Once the units were in place, all the appliances could be fitted, except the hob and extractor, which need to be installed when the worktop is in.

kitchen fittingHowever, it was only when the fridge freezer doors were installed that we realised they were the wrong size for the appliance. Meaning that every time I wanted to access the freezer I’d have to open them both. So new doors had to be made.

fridge freezerFinally, we got to a stage where the Dekton worktops could go in. First, they were templated – this means that the installers came with sheets of plastic to mark up where the worktops should cover and where cut-outs for the hob, sink and extractor needed to be. A couple of weeks later, they came to install. Unfortunately, one of the worktops was cut too short so needed to be replaced, adding three weeks to my schedule. Here’s a close up of the correct one in-situ:

Dekton worktopWhile all these delays have been happening (from snow in Spain holding up my worktops to a ducting kit flown in from Italy for my extractor and a faulty LED strip), I’ve been playing with Dulux tester pots of colour on spare bits of kitchen. When my Armac Martin handles arrived, I was able to see just how they’d look. I think these colours are my final choices. Probably. Maybe.

dulux paintsThe handles are now fixed to the cabinets (hurrah for no more opening doors at the edges) so it’s possible to get a better idea of how the final scheme will look:

handles in placeMy new tap from Perrin & Rowe has now also put in an appearance, so should be fitted soon. The replacement worktop is the next step, closely followed by painting. So a finished kitchen could potentially be only weeks away.

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Kitchen design diary: Fitting begins

My last post ended with me glaring at the wet plaster walls in my kitchen and using everything from Jedi mind tricks to wishful thinking to make them dry faster. Something worked because eventually they were ready to paint and we could start the process for laying the floor. Before the LVT could be laid, the fitter had to pour a self-levelling screed across the floor and let it dry.

dsc_0395The main concern at this point was our cats. As we’ve removed the kitchen door altogether, the liquid screed was ripe for the kitties to make their mark Hollywood Walk of Fame-style. One moggy-sized barrier later and the floor was safe from feline interference. Here’s the finished floor, complete with slim grey grout strips:

lvt floorFloor in place, the units could start to be fitted. As it’s not a big room, some had to live in the garage while the kitchen itself resembled a sliding puzzle of blocks and panels waiting to be put in the right order. Here’s what the room currently looks like, with most of the major furniture in place and firmly attached to a batten.

kitchen fittingOf course, while this all looks like it’s going swimmingly, there have been a few hiccups. Sourcing a ducting kit for the extractor is proving tricky, while the date for worktop templating has had to be pushed back until later this week. And in an ironic twist, everything has been delivered – but the kitchen sink.

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Kitchen design diary: Rebuild and restore

One piece of advice that I’ve previously imparted to those about to do a large home renovation project is try not to do it in winter. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Tradespeople coming and going is chilly. The other is that outside areas are much less available for dining, storage etc than they are in summer. I’d like to add a third reason – plaster is reluctant to dry.

I’ve found this out the hard way. My newly plastered walls have so far taken five days for the moisture to evaporate, even with a dehumidifier whirring away and open windows. I like to think of this as my own version of Dryanuary.

plastered kitchen walls

However, as you can see from above, even while wet, they’re a great improvement on what was there before. The hatch is now blocked up and covered over and the walls are fantastically smooth. It’s starting to look like a room again.

In the meantime, the builders have been doing a few other jobs – cutting the floorboards to shape around the new ducting for the downdraft extractor, laying plywood sheet as a base for the LVT floor and filling a hole in my hallway, as a chunk of wall had fallen out when the light socket was removed on the other side.

extractor ducting

drying plaster walls

Once the walls are dry, the next job will be to give them a priming coat of emulsion before proper painting begins. Another update soon!

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Kitchen design diary: Stripping out

Most of you probably spent New Year’s Day making resolutions but I spent it clearing out my kitchen cabinets. After years of complaining that I barely had any space for everything, I found that actually I’d managed to stuff a fair amount into the units and in every spare corner. As well as finding no less than five frying pans, I tried to declutter as I went and four boxes of kitchenware in a reasonable state went off to the charity shop and rather more went in the bin.

The following day, the strip out began. Here’s my empty kitchen:

Decluttered kitchen

And here it is minus some of those units:


The first job was rehoming the washing machine, which has now been plumbed into a Saniflo macerator beneath my stairs. The next was moving the gas supply from one side of the kitchen to the other, then getting rid of some pipework you can see on the right that was left over from an old radiator.

In any project, you make discoveries and so far I’ve made two. One was what my builders described as ‘meaty’ thick floor joists, so the house seems reassuringly well built. The other was a hole that had been blocked up with a blue and white ladies’ woollen jacket. The builders asked if I would like to keep it. The jacket, like the units, went into the skip and the kitchen currently looks like this:

Stripped out kitchen

Here, the strip light has been removed, spurs for sockets, lighting and appliances have been added and the boards have been sanded to create an even surface for the flooring. There’s dust everywhere from the sanding but already I’m starting to feel the design taking shape and it’s incredibly exciting.

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