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Finally, an Easy Sleep

30 Mar

Hi folks,

Hope this finds you well. I’m happy, because after weeks under siege, the scaffolding finally came off of our house today, and boy is it a relief. Not just because it heralds an end to the building work that’s been going on for what feels like an age, but because I didn’t sleep so easy whilst the outside of the house was covered in metal. Whilst logically I know that if someone wants to break into my home they needn’t scale scaffolding to do it  – we’ve got ground floor windows after all – I did feel 

that the house was less secure whilst it was there. Many years ago, in a previous flat, I was broken into whilst on holiday by someone busting in through the roof, so that maybe explains why I don’t like the roof of the house being freely accessible to anyone who fancies doing a spot of climbing. 

And I’m clearly not the only one who thinks it’s a temptation – my insurance company were very interested, both in the work being carried out and particularly in the scaffolding and. Lots of questions about how high it was and whether the house would be alarmed whilst it was up. It was only because I’d recently switched home insurance that I even remembered to tell them, otherwise my hard-won and long overdue new policy could have been at risk. 

Here’s a sponsored guest link that tells you how to sort your house insurance without fuss. I’d back up the part about checking for exclusions – if I hadn’t recently renewed my home insurance I wouldn’t have thought to inform my insurer about the scaffolding, making any break-in whilst it was up ineligible for a claim.

So, whilst a weekend of clearing up after builders beckons, I’m just happy to have made it through the renovation work without any unwelcome visitors. Hope your weekend is a good one, whatever your plans.

And just for a spot of weekend fun, here’s a link to a post I did this week for Huffington Post UK. x

PS – In many Asian countries they use bamboo, not metal, for scaffolding. Who said Skint’s not instructive?



How To Cut Your Energy Bills This Winter

21 Nov

Hello Skint pals and a big welcome to all of Skint’s new readers, who signed up after reading the Huffington Post piece last week. Delighted to have you here.

Something different today. In the first of an occasional series of guest posts, freelance energy writer Tara West gives us her take on ways to save money on staying cosy this winter. Over to you Tara . . .

When the temperatures drop and the days seem to get shorter, your first instinct may be to get home in a hurry and blast the heat so that you and your family can stay warm. However, you may start to regret your energy-dependent heating once you get the electric and gas bill.

 There are ways for you to stay warm without burning through your household budget. Follow these six tips for a warm winter.

 1. Use the fireplace.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace indoors, you should consider using it more often. Not only is this an excellent way to cut down on your heating bill but it can also bring your family together for some quality time. Make your fireside evenings extra special with a warm drink and holiday treats, and your family will soon be longing for cosy winter nights even in the warmer seasons.

2. Get a thermostat with a timer.

These simple devices can go a long way in saving you money on your energy bill, especially during the winter. You can programme your thermostat to operate at a lower temperature during the day when everyone is at work or school so that you never have to bother with changing the temperature manually. A good rule of thumb is to keep it between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit while you are at home and to lower it to the 50s when you are away.

 3. Bundle up!

Even when you are inside, wear layers of comfortable clothing to keep your body temperature up. Investing in a few pieces made of wool or fleece for your winter wardrobe will ensure that you always have a sweater or two to slip on when you get chilly. And don’t forget about long johns and thick socks for your lower extremities.

 4. Compare energy rates.

Even the most frugal homeowners sometimes find that their bills are too high. If you have taken every measure possible to lower your energy bill and it is still too high, consider switching to a different provider. You can look online to uswitch to compare energy prices, including your current rate, with other companies in your local area.

 5. Fill in cracks and holes. 

Brr. Don't even go there.

One of the most costly mistakes a homeowner can make is to not maintain the insulation of his or her home. Make sure to insulate the usually drafty places such as the attic, and check the weather-stripping on all the doors in the house. If your windows are made of single-pane glass, you may also want to consider replacing them with insulated glass.

 6. Change your light bulbs.

If you are still using old-model incandescent bulbs, switch them for more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs or LED lights. These newer bulbs use far less energy while providing the same wattage of light, and they usually come in the same sizes and shapes as incandescent bulbs.

Thanks Tara – great tips there. While Tara’s been writing this, I’ve been busy whittling down my best-ever vintage bargains and will share them with you in the next post.

See you all soon – and as ever if you’ve got any pals that you think would like to receive Skint in the City’s regular posts please forward to them. The more the merrier round here.

Skint x

Great Things to Buy at Auction

27 Jul

In Monday’s post I shared some of the tips I’ve learned from years of going to auctions. In Skint’s opinion you just can’t beat the auction room as a place to kit out a stylish home on a shoestring. That post got me thinking about my favourite auction buys:

Mirrors: If you buy just one thing at auction, make it a mirror. Department stores sell expensive ‘vintage style’ mirrors but the real thing can be found tumbling out of

antique mirror

This was part of a job lot of three

auction rooms for a song up and down the country. Vintage mirrors come in all shapes: super-sized ornate ones for the mantlepiece, little art deco numbers for the bathroom job lots of odd-sized ones which make a great feature hung together in the hall. So resolve here and now never to buy a mirror in a proper shop again – unless it’s one of those magnifying light up one for plucking your eyebrows. For everything else, go vintage.

Wardrobes:My favourite auction buy is an Art Nouveau wardrobe, the centre panel a gorgeous swirl of carved wood flowers and trees. Inside, it’s got dinky little compartments for gloves and scarves as well as plenty of hanging space and solid

art nouveau wardrobe

Ikea flatpacks can't compare

drawers in the bottom, deep enough to sleep a toddler. It’s a piece of master craftsmanship and cost £150. Auctions are terrific for bedroom furniture: not just wardrobes but dressing tables, bedside cabinets and heavy wooden beds. If you’re lucky you’ll bag a whole suite of matching furniture for a couple of hundred pounds.

Desks: As with wardrobes, the auction room is the best place to find quality, sturdy desks that will beat those modern, sheet-glass affairs on both style and functionality. People did more writing back-in-the-day I suppose, or took it more seriously. You’ll find that older desks come with loads of in-built extras, from drawers to hold your pens, to flip-up compartments for storing correspondence. Expect to pay around £60 for a good quality desk in an auction room. I know, I can hardly believe it either: what are you waiting for?  

Art: I snapped up this Warhol cow print about six years ago and it takes pride of place not only in my kitchen but my heart, goddam it. I don’t know why I love her so but I’d pass over a lot of other stuff to save her in a fire. Many auction houses host picture sales once a month, with prices varying from £30 (my cow print) right up to silly money. 

What’s your best-ever home bargain? Do tell. The cow would want to know. 

Auction Tips for Newbies

25 Jul

This weekend I went to an auction house for the first time in about a year – and remembered why I love them so much. Auction houses are absolutely the best way I can think of to furnish a home with style when funds are tight. 

Six or seven years ago, on moving into my house with little furniture to my name, I went to auctions most weeks. I couldn’t understand then – and still can’t – why anyone would go to a store and spend £60 on a build-it-yourself chest of drawers when, for the same price auction rooms are offering items a hundred times better in terms of both quality and style.  

Now, though always on the lookout for unusual furniture, I’m mainly interested in smaller stuff. This weekend I got a couple of interesting things for the bathroom. This little lady is slightly dusty, but when polished up she’s going to make the most glamorous soap dish you ever did see.

 And I got four of these Art Nouveau coat hooks to hang dressing gowns and towels.

Right enough, I didn’t always love auctions. They used to scare me. I worried a lot about scratching my nose and inadvertently paying £500 for a set of miniature china donkeys.  Now though I’ve realised that auctioneers are trained to recognise rookies. You won’t end up paying for a Ming vase by mistake.  Here are some tips I slowly learned on my auction trawls:

1)      Play it cool: Love that birdcage so much you’re prepared to hock your house for it? Don’t let on. Always start your bidding small – you might find there’s less competition that you’d expect.

2)      Get there early: This gives you plenty of time to properly view the goods before the auction starts and to make a clear-headed judgement about what you’re prepared to pay. Many auction rooms offer a preview the night before the sale so you can decide which items you really want and what you’re prepared to pay before you get caught up in the thrill of the chase.

3)     Set a limit: Then stick to it! Do not get drawn into a bidding war – no matter how much fun it may seem at the time. Auctions bring out your competitive side but will you still feel like a winner when you’ve paid £100 more than you planned? I once got drawn into a bidding war on a painting. I loved it and had set a limit of £150. So why was I still sticking up my hand when bidding reached £400? Because I didn’t want to lose. Thank God my competitor had more money (or just more nerve) than me and kept bidding till the point when even I recognised it was getting out of hand.   

If shabby chic's your thing you'll do better at auction than Ikea

  4)     Stick to the classic stuff. Some auction rooms sell modern things like vacuum cleaners and those funny contraptions for doing stomach exercises. Steer clear and stick to what the auction does best. Go for the old goods: vintage mirrors, an antique desk, maybe a handcarved wardrobe.

5) Remember the fees: In addition to the hammer price, you’ll typically pay 15-20% commission plus VAT when paying for goods. For big ticket items that could add up to a hefty sum so you’ll need to factor it in when bidding.

6) Browse first, buy later: If you’re still nervous about bidding, just go along to an auction for a nosey to find out how they work. Refuse a ‘paddle’ when it’s offered – you need this to bid, so without one you’re safe! Whether you’re planning to buy or not, a morning at an auction room, followed by a coffee with a friend is a cheap, chic day out. Throw in a visit to a couple of vintage shops and you’ve got my idea of the perfect Saturday.

Real auctions are far more fun than ebay and just sniffing around them costs nothing at all (or sometimes a titchy entrance fee). In the next post I’ll share my thoughts on the best things to buy there. 

Back in the City! And back to bargains.

19 Jul

Hello lovelies! After a mammoth break Skint in the City is finally back where it belongs. Sure, camping was a riot, but there’s only so much fresh air anyone can take. And I missed pollution, gadgets and the summer sales of course, as well as the biggest media scandal in memory, so it’s good to be back.

This year’s summer holiday was a blast. Hastily organised, and cheap as chips, there’s nothing quite like camping to provide a tonic to the city grind. Hedgehogs in the tent; communal washing up; being woken by the wind in the trees – quite the antidote to deadlines and pressure. I’d fully recommend it to any scandal-hit executives in need of a little R & R. It’s way cheaper than Champneys.

Camping is the ideal holiday for skint folks of course, and even glamping (ie throw in a double bed and a fridge) is a snip, compared to the cost of renting anything with walls. A fortnight in a very souped-up tent cost £400 – next year I’ll be going for three weeks. Meals were taken al fresco – lots of smelly cheese, strong coffee and budget-friendly picnics. With a free on-site pool, a bike to get around and star-watching at night for entertainment, it delivered a very big bang for very few bucks.

Back in the city, however, I’m content to ditch the stargazing in favour of admiring a new and long-awaited purchase.  You may remember my quest for a Smeg fridge I could afford from this earlier post . How I have coveted Smeg’s funky retro curves, its magpie-shiny art deco handles, the fact that it turns an ordinary household item into an object of beauty. The price tag ain’t so lovely  though and I must have lost at least thirty bids on ebay as the darlings continually went to homes far more salubrious than mine. Still, with every defeat I became more and more determined to make one of those honeys my own.

And finally, bonanza. Just before I went on holiday I spotted a Smeg on ebay . The icebox was too titchy, but I noticed, lurking in the background, just over its shoulder, another red Smeg that looked just the job. And luckily the ebay listing had a contact number, so I chanced my arm, phoned and asked if the Smeg in the background was for sale. Turns out – oh lucky me – that the firm was just about to list it on ebay. My offer to buy would save them from paying the 10% commission that ebay take from big-ticket items. What’s more, the item was scratch and dent – a welcome phrase to anyone who’s skint in the city. We agreed a price and – ta-da! – here it is! A little piece of luxury gained for a Skint(ish) price.

Is it wrong to so love something that can never love me back?

Smegs retail new for £1500-=£1600.  Unfeasible in my world. I got this baby for £599. I’m happy as a sandpiper. It’s still a fair chunk of money but I justify the purchase by telling myself that any new fridge freezer will cost £400-£500 and I really needed a new one. Oh and it’s a stunner – did I mention that?

Here’s what I learned during the great Smeg hunt:

  • Seek imperfections – As I outlined previously in the Getting the Luxe Look for Less post, loads of people are put off by a wee scratch on their furniture. Me? Ooh, I’ve learned to love ’em. Whether it’s appliances or dining room tables, shopping at outlets that specialise in slightly imperfect items can save you a bucket. The best site I’ve come across for scratch and dent, or graded, appliances is All Your Appliances   which gives great discount on high end appliances. My Smeg came from The Appliance Depot and very lovely the folks were too. It’s got a teeny scratch on the top left hand side, so tiny that when I tried to photograph it it didn’t show up. Worth the giant discount in my book.
  • Think outside the box – During the great Smeg hunt I came across a black Smeg at an affordable price. It got me thinking – could I buy it and have it spraypainted? I rang a local car bodyshop, afraid they might think me a madwoman. Turns out, enterprising folks have been using them for years. The guy told me he’d spraypainted full sets of kitchen cupboards, bins and dishwashers, then quoted me £150 to turn a black Smeg red. Now, given that unusual coloured Smegs often cost £500 more than cream or black ones, I found this a revelation. I like the idea of getting kitchen units sprayed high gloss too – keeping this one up my sleeve for later.
  • Get delivery bids Shiply is a genius idea, taking your delivery job to market and asking couriers across the country to bid for your work. You can then choose the price and service that suits you best. Takes a lot of the strain out of buying large items on ebay.
  • Go Gumtree – all skint in the city types know Gumtree by now, but I recently started using their ‘wanted’ section to post what I’m looking for, rather than just scanning For Sale. I got a couple of offers on Smegs this way, though neither quite what I was after. 
  • Don’t give up – the key to bagging true bargains is persistence. The Smeg hunt lasted for months but I was learning what was a fair price and what I was really prepared to pay, as well as loads of tricks like spraypainting and graded appliance outlets. Just as well really, cos that’s my home budget blown for a good long while. I’ll be needing every thrifty trick I can get for the rest of the year! 

Sorry for the wordy post, folks – clearly summer holiday slackery is extending to my posts. I’ll be trimming and toning from hereon in, rest assured. It’s good to be home. Hope you’re all enjoying your summer. 

Have Bargain, Will Travel – The Smart Way to Transport your ebay Finds

22 May

Who is the loveliest of the all?

I am no slave to designers. No sir. Generally I hate anything that wears it name on its front and yet . . . for the last couple of months I’ve found myself pining for a Smeg fridge. It’s the funky retro-look, the cute wee silver handles, but yikes, even secondhand Smegs are way out of reach 99% of the time.

However, just occasionally, one comes up on ebay that I might actually afford, till I see that postage is going to cost me three times more than the fridge. A couple of weeks ago I saw a relatively cheap one advertised in London. My heart jumped ever so slightly. Then I called a courier company and it sank. They wanted £559 to transport it! You can guess what I said.

So I’m delighted to have found out about bargain shipping company Shiply, courtesy of a great post by fellow blogger Miss Thrifty. I won’t repeat her wisdom – just head across to her post and read it for yourselves, but essentially Shiply lets you find delivery vans that are already heading to your town or city and which have some spare capacity for your goods. A bit like car-sharing for your lovely new things. Sounds nice and sociable, doesn’t it? And way, way cheaper than putting your new purchase in solitary confinement as it travels. I love this idea – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fallen in love with a bookcase in Brighton or a cocktail cabinet in York, then balked at the cost of transporting them home. 

A great find, Miss Thrifty – thanks. 

Transforming Your Home – The Upcycling Way

30 Jan

There’s not much that’s good about this recession is there? VAT hikes, pay cuts – none of it happy news, but amidst the gloom there’s one chink of light: the trend towards loving what you already own. Restoring and taking care of what you’ve got and looking afresh at what’s already in your cupboards is exactly the sort of behaviour that skint girls embrace – and right now it’s more fashionable – and necessary – than ever. ‘Upcycling’ is the trendy name for it, ie taking what you’ve got and making it even better.

 Upcycling is now big business, with established designers vying to transform bits of junk into beautiful things. At a professional level, people are busy turning old tyres into funky chairs and old plastic bottles into gorgeous chandeliers, but there’s a whole lot you can do yourself at home, just by thinking creatively about what you own. From sanding down and repainting old furniture, to coating it with resin and covering it with pictures, there are loads of ways to improve past-its-prime furniture and turn it into something better.

  • Give an old chest of drawers a repaint and some flamboyant handles to transform it into a snazzy bedside table
  • Scour car boot sales and charity shops for design classics from the sixties and seventies then give them a makeover with a bit of spray paint. I recently bought this seventies sunburst clock, below,  for two pounds at a car boot sale, cleaned it up and sprayed it silver. It looks fantastic in my hall  –  and best of all I found out that posh high street store, Heal’s are selling similar for £85! Bonanza! 

    My two quid style statement


  • Clip beautiful pictures from art books, or even magazines – Vogue’s fashion spreads, for example, are often spectacular. Mount them on card and frame them, then hang in a group of three. They will look expensive and stylish. Markets and charity shops are great places to find funky frames for a couple of pounds.  Spray-paint wooden frames silver or gold – takes two minutes and really looks the business.
  • Recycle old clothes into cushion covers (you only need basic sewing skills for this). Here’s how.
  • Paint is a Godsend to those on a budget – it jazzes up a room like nothing else, it’s cheap, easy to use and you can choose from every colour of the rainbow and then a million more. In short, it’s the biggest decorating bang for your buck that you’re likely to get. From accent walls, to picture rails, to floors and doors, painting is one of the quickest, cheapest ways to zazz up just about anything.

Let your imagination run wild! If you’ve got a piece of furniture that no longer floats your boat, what do you have to lose by sanding it down, changing the handles or giving it a lick of paint?

Paint? Check. Handles? Check. Whole new look? You bet.

Getting the Luxe Look for Less in your Home

24 Jan
What if you’ve got expensive home decor tastes that nothing but a full Grohe bathroom and super-sized Smeg fridge will satisfy? Here are Skint in the City’s top tips to help cheat your way to a luxe look.


Choose quality over quantity: Buying the best you can afford in small quantities is the golden rule of great style on a budget. Just one wall of dramatic designer wallpaper will make far more of a statement than four walls of a ho-hum pattern. I love Timorous Beasties  – you only need a little of these gorgeous butterflies, below, to make a real impact.

A little of this goes a long, long way . . .


 eBay: When decorating my bathroom recently I was desperate for a wallfull of the little super-shiny Bisazza tiles that I spotted in the sauna of a Berlin hotel. They catch the light in a hundred different ways, turning even the smallest space into a jewel box. They are also very expensive and rather hard to find, but thanks to a combination of Google and eBay I was able to track down an online seller who sold at wholesale prices. Sure, I could still only afford to do one wall but you do get a lot of Bisazza for your buck: I did the whole wall for a third of the price the same tiles would have cost in the shop. 

Haggle: I remember the day I learned that you could haggle on new furniture. I’d just sold my first flat and when the buyer came round to measure up for curtains she mentioned that she’d bought a suite of bedroom furniture from John Lewis. ‘Wasn’t that expensive?’ I couldn’t help asking. (My bedroom was furnished from the Salvation Army). ‘Well,’ she smiled, ‘I was buying a few things so they gave me a great discount.’ When pressed further it turned out she’d managed to get thirty percent off the ticket price. It was a revelation, and one that I immediately squirreled away for the future. Always ask for a discount on big purchases, and if you’re buying more than one item you’re in a great position to bargain. At the very least you should be able to get the delivery charge waived or some free cushions for your sofa. 

Get it interest-free: Many furniture shops do interest free loans, meaning you don’t pay penny more than the original cost of the items, yet can spread it out over three or four years. Even when shops don’t advertise this option it’s worth asking if they’ll do it, especially if you’re making a major purchase. The same applies to kitchens and bathrooms – B&Q for example offers interest-free new kitchens, repayable in monthly instalments over four years.

Department store cards: Sign up for department store cards and you’ll get loyalty points on all purchases. You can then put these towards the really big buys. As a loyalty card holder stores will keep you informed of their sale dates and sometimes offer sneak previews of their best bargains. You might even qualify for extra savings at sale time, such as an extra ten percent off on already reduced goods. Don’t automatically assume that department store furniture is too expensive: the discounts can be massive, especially towards the end of the sales when they’re desperate to reclaim the shop floor for new goods. 

Outlet stores: Furniture gets scratched. Sometimes it gets sticky. But most customers want it pristine – great news for those who don’t mind having to do minor repair jobs. Most major furniture chains have outlet stores, where they send slightly imperfect or ex-display furniture. Prices are generally half of the full retail price, often with very little wrong with the goods. Just type ‘outlet furniture stores’ into Google to get started saving cash. 

Designer kitchens for a song: If you own your flat and want to change your kitchen, research the online sites specialising in ex-display and used designer kitchens, plus appliances. Your dreams of a Smeg just might be achievable after all.Buy art: You don’t have to be a Russian billionaire to take pleasure in your own private art collection. Check out art school degree shows. The prices are low, the ideas are amazing and you might be lucky and snap up the future Tracey Emin for a song. Some Arts Councils also offer schemes which enable people to buy new art on an interest-free loan basis. Or check out local auctions – I snapped up this Warhol cow print at one for £30.

Holy cow - big impact, tiny price

Shopping for your Home – Skint Style

23 Jan

Skint girls don’t need to head to pricey interior design shops – not unless it’s to pinch ideas. There are a whole host of other options to make your cash go further. Here are some of the best places for a stylish woman-about-town to bag herself a home bargain. 

Charity Shops: When I bought my first flat I didn’t have a stick of furniture to my name. What’s more, paying the deposit had

There's treasure in here somewhere . . .

 practically bankrupted me, so I had no choice but to get creative when it came to furnishings. The Salvation Army was my saviour. On my first trip I picked up a great dressing table for £10 – no joke – and you know what? I still have it today. Maybe I could afford something better now, but it still looks absolutely terrific, with the most original old handles and a high polish. It fits perfectly in the bay window of my bedroom and has drawn countless compliments over the years. It also came with a great large mirror, which I didn’t want, but gave to a friend. With thrifty buys like that you can afford to spread the love around a little. Another great find in charity shops is linens. Heavy damask curtains are in right now and look stylish and expensive. And you can’t beat the craftsmanship of old lace and linen.

Skint Tip: Find out when your target stores receive new deliveries and make sure your visit coincides. My local Salvation Army gets deliveries at lunchtime so I time my visits to take place then, before all the good stuff goes. The store also knows what will be coming in on the lorries, so I often call in the morning if I’m looking for something specific, to save myself a wasted trip. 

Car Boot sales: I’ve got two sunburst clocks in my house that came from car boot sales. Both were seventies-brown when I bought them: now one is silver, the other gold and they’re frequently admired. I often see similar in high end stores. Car boot sales are cheap as chips and a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning. Check out to find your nearest one. Jumble sales and even church fetes are also great places to find quirky home items for next to nothing – my past finds include a sixties cocktail cabinet and a beautiful art deco mirror. It’s buys like these will make your home stand out from all those other identikit flats. Sales are often advertised in the local paper and noticeboards, so keep you eyes peeled when you’re out and about.

Skint Tip: It’s the early bird who catches the goodies – arrive half-an-hour before the official start time and you’ll have the pick of the crop. Also, at care boot sales and jumble sales, cash is king so leave your credit cards at home. And remember to bring along your own bags for your haul: they always run out. 

Markets: Similar to car boot sales, but more permanent, are markets, full of quirkiness and glorious variety. In my home town of Glasgow

Surely this beats Ikea any day

the famous Barras market plays host to everything: from rare books and old vinyl to pre-loved dolls and rabbits ears. Sure, it’s got knock-off DVDs and tobacco too, but also plenty of brilliant vintage buys, such as gilt mirrors, rattan chairs and tailors dummies, all jostling together on rickety tables. I recently bought a Queen Anne sideboard there for a hundred pounds, including delivery, took it home, painted it silver and attached some funky rococo handles. Oh happy day.  Check out your local council’s website for details of markets in your town.  

Discount Stores and Value Shops: Skint, stylish folks don’t turn up their noses at discount stores. Instead they know of the recent trend for low-price stores to pair up with designers – and well aware of the benefits. The last few years have seen Matalan partner with Justin and Colin and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, making seriously stylish goods available at low retail prices. Formerly down-at-heel shops like In Store have also greatly smartened up their act. These shops should be the go-to places for things like canisters, place-mats, napkins, bathroom storage and bedding. They’ve got good-looking, stylish pieces at great prices and, quite honestly, who wants to blow their budget on a toilet roll holder? 

Auction Rooms: The auction room is a treasure trove and a brilliant way to furnish a home with style. Why anyone would go to a modern store and spend even as little as £50 on a flatpack chest of drawers is beyond me, when, for the same price, auction rooms are offering items a hundred times better. One of my best-ever auction buys is an art deco wardrobe. It has the most beautiful, intricate art nouveau carvings on the front and inside it’s beautifully made. I bid £150 for it, which is less than you’d pay for most flatpack ones and it’s such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship that I imagine it will be passed down through the family when I’ve passed over to the great cocktail party in the sky. 


Welcome Home!

18 Jan

Home is the dead centre of our lives and where skint girls really get to show their mettle. Whether you’re renting a room, saving for a deposit, or already a proud owner, chances are you don’t have much to spend on home improvements, but the great news is that when it comes to styling your home, verve and imagination matter far more than money.

My best lesson in creating a chic home from pennies came when I was living in Barcelona. At that point – the late nineties – the city wasn’t as expensive as it is now, but my meagre salary meant that I still couldn’t afford much in the way of furniture. A stroke of luck

Carrie's apartment - in the days when she was still keeping it real

 saw me bag a one-bedroom flat on the roof of a beautiful old apartment, slap-bang in the middle of the city. Although the location was amazing and the terrace enormous, inside was teensy and the kitchen could only take one person at a time. My bathroom was joined on to the kitchen – I’m sure the city’s environmental health officers would have had a if they’d known – but it was all mine and I had brilliant fun furnishing it from scratch.

When I moved back to the UK I once again found myself with very little money, an empty flat and not even a kettle to my name. Stick by stick, charity shop find by market bargain, I built a stylish home that I loved, making tons of cock-ups, learning new tricks and discovering that creating a stylish home has little to do with money. In fact, homes where everything looks expensive are a bit passé. You know the type: the swishest kitchen with no visible clutter; the bedroom decorated in neutral tones, save for a cheery, unchallenging abstract above the bed; and the blandest hallway, probably featuring twigs in a vase. Every room is magnolia and brown and matchy-matchy and makes you want to yawn: give me somewhere with a bit of personality any day.The first thing that all skint-in-the-city girls need to do – even more important than establishing a budget – is to work out your own personal style. Are you into shabby chic? Or does the very thought of anything pre-loved make your skin crawl? Do you yearn for a cosy nest filled with books and cushions or a sleek space full of clean lines?

When working out your personal decorating style you can find inspiration anywhere, not just in the pages of magazines. A couple of months before I moved into my first flat I went on holiday to Greece. Trawling the museums of Athens I not only swallowed down the art but also spotted a raspberry-pink wall that I immediately knew was the perfect shade for my lounge. Inspiration is everywhere: beg, borrow and steal the best style tips from wherever you can.

Great places to pinch inspiration

Lobbies of swish hotels: living in the city you’re at a great advantage – you have access to hundreds of hotels, restaurants and funky new bars. Even if you can’t afford to eat there, nicking their ideas is free. Just wander round, pretending you’re sizing up the place for another day, then squirrel away their best decorating ideas for future use.

Art galleries and museums: these places know how to use colour better than the ordinary Jill – they do it for a living. As with my flash of inspiration in the museums of Athens, so a trip to any art gallery can yield terrific ideas for new colour combos.

Your wardrobe: take clues from your clothes. Chances are that if you’re a boho-chic dresser your home decor preferences will be in the same vein, whereas if your wardrobe consists mainly of tailored clothes and crisp shirts you might well favour a streamlined look for your home.

Nature: My turquoise kitchen wall was inspired by an unforgettable Italian holiday where the sea was the most inviting thing I’d ever seen. From bright purple heather to the pinks and reds of a sunset, city girls let nature inspire their homes. 

The web: there’s no longer any need to fork out on pricey home decor magazines – the web is awash with interiors sites catering for every taste. Even if the items featured are too expensive it’s a terrific way to pick up quirky ideas. Check out for starters.

Your friends: let’s be honest, is there anyone who hasn’t left a friend’s home green with envy after seeing their latest DIY project? Don’t sweat it though – that way heart attacks lie. Instead, use your envy as a motivator. Notice how other people use colour, or maximise space, or mix together furniture, then pinch their ideas and add a little of yourself to the mix. That’s how style evolves.     

shabby chic - magnifique!

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