A (White) Christmas Market

We woke on Sunday morning to find Oxford under a blanket of thick snow that threatened to ruin this year’s Harcourt Christmas Market (organised by Chalky Chic). The Harcourt Market is a community event featuring the work of a very talented bunch of locals including artists, upcyclers, silversmiths, a ceramicist and a culinary genius.

Chalky Chic runs this local market 4 times a year and it is always great fun, bringing the local community together and hosted in the Harcourt Arms public house in Jericho, Oxford.

Whilst a couple of stall holders from further afield couldn’t risk the short drive to the pub, those within walking distance rallied round and helped each other out collecting their wares. The heavy snowfall forced us indoors but the publican generously made space for us and we set up in one half of the bar. Despite the atrocious weather, plenty of brave punters donned their wellies to visit the market and it was a convivial afternoon of shopping and socialising over a Christmas drink.

Many thanks to everyone who came along, especially our lovely bunch of locals who made the event such fun.


Last weekend I took part in the two-day Upcycled Hour Live event (#UHLB17) at the Unitarian Church in Brighton and where better to stage such an event than a city that boasts the country’s only Green Party MP.

The Upcycled Hour, created by the inspirational Chris Billinghurst, started life as a weekly Twitter forum for professional upcyclers around the UK giving us a platform to exchange ideas, advice and information.

Since its inception, the group has steadily grown, going from strength to strength and this year’s Upcycled Hour Live on the 16 & 17th June aimed to build on the success of the 2016 maiden event.

Footfall was a little disappointing, particularly on the Friday evening. Although there were an estimated 600+ visitors on the Saturday, a venue just off Brighton’s famous Lanes has the potential to attract an even bigger crowd. It was the hottest Saturday of the year and I suspect this did not particularly work in our favour. Days like that are rare and I don’t blame people for heading to the pub, beach and green spaces rather than browsing the shops.

In addition, despite the organiser’s best efforts to direct shoppers through to the back room, those of us with stands there noticed a marked difference in visitor numbers with only one major sale in the back room all weekend. However, Upcycled Hour Live was not just about sales; it was an opportunity to raise the profession’s profile, network with our peers, encourage increased upcycling and discuss potential commissions.

It was great to finally put a face to the furniture – pieces that were so familiar through social media – and to share our experiences.

UHLB1710Siren Designs (in the backroom) produce amazing decoupage statement pieces that attracted a lot of interest and a group of us discussed the pros and cons of playing it safe with neutral colours versus letting our imagination go wild. Most of my work is commissioned pieces but I do sell at a monthly market and at my own quarterly artisan’s event, so my on-spec furniture usually falls into the neutral category. However, looking at the other stands at UHLB17 I realised that whilst my work is well executed and tasteful, it is not particularly vibrant. Watching visitor browsing habits as they entered the room, I could see that the majority made a beeline to the more colourful items and I have decided that I need to create a wow-factor piece that possibly won’t sell but will attract attention, hopefully causing punters to stop and check out the rest of my stock.

Chalky Chic’s Upcycled Crates and Bottle Lamps

All things considered, I’m glad I took part in the Upcycled Hour Live and believe the experience has encouraged me to raise my game. Click on the following links for further information about both the Upcycled Hour and the Upcycled Hour Live.


The Great Interior Design Challenge

Season Four of BBC2’s Great Interior Design Challenge kicked off last night and I shall be watching this series with particular interest. After spending four weeks this time last year shouting at my TV set “that’s awful – I can do better than that” I decided to put my money where my mouth is and spent a couple of weeks last spring putting together my application to take part in the competition…

Taking part in something like this is totally outside my comfort zone but I realised that if successful, it could be life changing.

I wanted to stand out amongst the crowd so I decided to submit my presentation in the form of a magazine. My Victorian terrace home is pretty small and taking photographs that do the interior justice is challenging to say the least so I designed mood boards for each sample room that incorporated different elements of my style.






Although I completed the standard application form, I also transferred my responses into my ‘magazine’ including information about my personal influences, ‘soft’ skills and two sister businesses Chalky Chic and Pip Art.

I sent off my precious submission by recorded delivery and was really excited when 24 hours later I got a voicemail to ring the production company. Of course I rang back as soon as I could only to find that the offices were closed for the bank holiday so I had an agonising few days waiting to speak to them.

I’d made the first cull and then it was just a case of waiting to see if I’d been selected to take part in the show.

I guess by now you have realised that I didn’t make it through to the final shortlist and watching the first episode yesterday I’m not sure I would have coped with the public scrutiny or the judges criticism. However, I really enjoyed putting my application together and I don’t regret the time I devoted to it.

As I said at the start, it will be very interesting to see just who did make the final cut. I will try to not judge the contestants too harshly or feel too bitter that ‘it should have been me’!



A Pop Up Christmas Market

harcourtposterv2Driving home in November from my regular stall at the Magdalen Arms Flea Market, inspiration struck – how about putting on my own Christmas Market in our local pub?

The Landlord was all for the idea, a date was picked and within 48 hours I had the publicity done, launched an event page on Facebook, listed the event in local media and had a waiting list of local artisans and makers signed up for a stall.

I organised the event under the Chalky Chic banner to reinforce my brand identity.

The Harcourt Arms is in a part of Oxford known as Jericho. The area was narrowly saved from slum clearance fifty years ago, and for decades now has been a trendy, sought after, rather Bohemian part of town with streets of back to back Victorian terraces and an eclectic population of longterm residents, families, academics, students and artisans. I had no trouble in finding talented locals who wanted to take part.

market2The pub has a walled garden that was perfect for a pop up market and was already decked out with rope lights and lanterns. I added a few festive touches – such as additional battery powered lights and Christmas baubles hanging from the cherry tree in the middle – and lined the edge of the courtyard with trestle tables. The locals pulled out all the stops spreading the word through Facebook and email to their contacts and delivering flyers during the week before the event.

Then the good old British weather struck! The day before the event it took a nasty turn and heavy rain swept in out of nowhere. It was a risk but I decided to postpone the market to the following Saturday and pray for dry weather. Once again the local community pulled together and helped to re-advertise the change of date. The gods were with us and the day of the Market dawned drab but dry.

My biggest fear was that no-one would come but a steady stream of visitors filled the market all afternoon…

The pub provided mulled wine and sold out of bratwurst mid-afternoon. There was a wonderful array of stalls: Caroline‘s evocative black and white photographs, Rhian‘s beautiful silver jewellery and Rosalind‘s colourful ceramics to name just a few…

market14Locals Mike and architect Paul brought along cosy hats and socks made from Yak wool and intricate hand-drawn panoramas of Oxford. Paul and Ali (aka The Landlord) had been working on creating a new pickle and launched Winner’s vodka pickles on the day!  Obviously Chalky Chic had a stall and I also sold  prints wearing my Pip Art hat. Olivia and Dare by Arlete brought along their colourful bags and accessories, Rachel (and helpers) sold her unique chilli jam, Jonathan’s eclectic stall of collectibles had some very intriguing pieces – such as a Belgian gas mask complete with instructions – whilst Jill had a lovely display of Christmas decorations and Maria of Indigo Flip sold handmade decorations and cards.

The afternoon flew past, and with the effort and support of the local community proved to be a really enjoyable event. In fact, as some of us gathered for a drink at the end of the day, all agreed that the Harcourt Arms Pop Up Market should become a regular event so watch this space…

The Queen Of Chalk Paint

Mini-crates painted in Provence, Emile, English Yellow, Giveney & Scandinavian Pink and all finished with Annie Sloan’s white wax.

Annie Sloan – the Queen of chalk paint – started her business from a small shop in Oxford over 25 years ago. Since these humble beginnings the Annie Sloan empire now boasts stockists worldwide from Singapore to Calgary, Helsinki to Cape Town.

As Chalky Chic is based in Oxford, I couldn’t resist going along to the launch of Annie’s latest book Annie Sloan Paints Everything which took place in her tiny shop on Oxford’s Cowley Road last night (27 October 2016).

As an added bonus, Anna and Rosie from Independent Oxford were there hosting one of their regular Indie Oxford Meet Ups. I’ve been interested in joining this group for some time so it was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone!

The shop was packed to the rafters. Staff were on hand passing around canapés and flutes of Prosecco as well as answering questions, particularly about Annie’s three new wonderful colours Giverney, Amsterdam Green and Honfleur. Annie was very friendly and down to earth and after a few welcoming words, signed copies of the book whilst her family mingled with the crowd.

I recognised a few familiar faces from the Magdalen Flea Market and stopped to chat with Rosie and Anna who encouraged me to come along to the next Indie Oxford Meet Up and advised me on how to join the Independent Oxford Directory of Businesses and Makers. All in all, it was a pleasant and informal evening and although networking doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m glad I went along.

Pitching Up for Not On The High Street

noths-logoLast week I drove the 80 miles to Leicester to pitch to Not On The High Street. It was an interesting although sadly unsuccessful experience. The event was held at St Martin’s House, a converted grammar school in the heart of the city.

Attendees were each given a 10-minute slot to pitch their product or idea to a team of experienced Not On The High Street staff and the crowded waiting area was mainly full of bright young things each hoping that their creation was going to wow the buyers and secure them a space in this highly successful marketplace.

Although I love what I do and believe in my product 100%, I wasn’t overly confident that it is right for Not On The High Street and so went along with few expectations under the premise that it would be good experience and useful to get some professional feedback on my upcycling business. The experts liked my product too but advised that I needed to be able to offer the same item in a range of colours and perhaps with an option for customers to provide their own fabric for upholstery.

benchbrochureOccasionally I will have a limited edition of the same item such as my upholstered benches or lime-washed crates, but on the whole each item is unique and upcycled to make the most of its features.

That is the beauty of a piece from Chalky Chic – it is a world away from mass produced, catalogue or flat-packed furniture.

The Upcycled Hour

© Miskosvk

I recently joined a professional upcycling association The Upcycled Hour and one of the membership conditions is to take part in the weekly twitter forum #upcyclehour. I am a twitter newbie so I took the bull by the horns, set myself up with an account @chalkychic and at the allotted time, dived in. My first tweet announced that I was a first timer and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Within seconds several helpful members instructed me to make sure I was on the live link and then just go with the flow…

What a stressful 60 minutes – I can only liken it to arriving in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and don’t understand the culture!

The conversation was in full flow but I didn’t understand it – tweets flew across my bow at a fast and furious pace, often responding to streams that I didn’t see the beginning of and couldn’t grasp the meaning. It was clear that many of the members were old hands at this lark and had already formed a virtual relationship with each other. I found myself wondering whether this was what the early stages of dementia was like – not being able to keep up with the conversation or recognising the participants? Blink and you missed something, leave the screen to make a cuppa and you were a goner.

Eventually a couple of other newbies made contact and we all confessed our mutual bewilderment. Eventually as the clock ticked on, I summoned up the confidence to contribute and tweeted about my experience of using Annie Sloan’s white wax for the first time. People responded, even asked me about it and whether the product was easy to use? Finally the hour was up and with a huge sigh of relief I bid my farewell and left the platform.

I guess that taking part will get easier with the passing weeks and now realise that I need to be prepared and take something to the forum each week if I want to make the most of the experience. Only time will tell whether Twitter becomes my friend, but like every relationship you only get back what you put in!

Using White Wax

I’ve been itching to try out Annie Sloan’s new white wax so when I came across a couple of small crate-style trays I knew instantly that they would be the perfect project to experiment with…

I decided that their rustic appearance leant itself to the coastal theme that is so popular at the moment and painted each of them in slightly different shades of blue: a marine blue for one and a deep aqua for the other.

As my intention was to distress them before applying the wax, I painted both in old white before applying the blue so that I could rub them back to show the white in the grooving, corners and edges.

Finally I worked white wax into all the surfaces to create a lime-wash finish and am very pleased with the overall effect.

I think they would look particularly nice on a dresser or coffee table with a display of coastal themed items such as a sea glass or shell collection or with a few old glass bottles.

Now that I have mastered white wax, I am looking forward to trying it out on a few different pieces.

Going To Market

My first flea market was a cautious success – I sold one item of painted furniture, a vintage board game, some fabric off-cuts and a bunch of old 78 rpm records – but then I have nothing to gauge this against.

I guess I should be pleased that I even broke even on my first trip to market, let alone made a healthy profit!

I shared the stall with fellow furniture painter Indigo Flip who was a first-timer too. There was a steady footfall throughout the day although regular traders commented on how quiet it was. Another furniture painter there said that she normally cleans up at these monthly markets so it would seem that perseverance is the key here. Next time I will be better prepared and now that I know the stall’s limitations of can plan my staging in advance.

The most promising encounter of the day happened before I’d even finished setting out my stall when a fellow trader asked me the price for my entire stock…

As it happens he felt my price was too high for him to make a profit selling on, but I’m glad I stuck to my guns as it proved that there is a market for my work.

Thinking About Branding…

With my first Flea Market approaching I have been looking at my branding and am not particularly happy with what I see. I wanted to convey a cohesive, contemporary, upmarket image but it just doesn’t gel…

I love what I do and I want that to come across. I aim for striking, simple pieces of furniture that make a statement and my branding has to reinforce this.

My website (which I designed wearing my other hat – Pip Art) uses a restricted colour palette – basically charcoal on white – and relies on the furniture itself to provide colour. Although two separate businesses, there is a synergy between them as both this site and my Pip Art website use a whitewashed brick background and both embody my love of colour.

12711077_933853340043162_2787982555447600389_oI also used this background for my promotional flyers and wish I’d done the same for my business cards which I designed long before I began even thinking about flyers. Luckily, I only ordered a small quantity of these so will be changing to white brick background for the next print run.


75mm-2I wanted to stamp my maker’s mark on a discreet part of each piece I paint so I purchased an ink stamp of the Chalky Chic logo from the fantastic English Stamp Company. As I don’t need to mass produce labels I decided to use this on my point of sale materials too and bought a lettering set in my favourite typeface, American Typewriter so that I can hand-stamp pricing information on the labels. 

labelI have always loved the simplicity of items made from Kraft card and so decided to use this for my labelling. Painted furniture should always come with after care instructions and for each piece of furniture on my stall I produced a little folded [Kraft] card with the Chalky Chic logo on the front, the price stamped inside and separate care instructions folded  inside the matching envelope. I attached both of these to the piece using narrow black ribbon although as I’m mad about gingham, I think I might change to black & white gingham for my next sale.

Lessons learnt? Well, launching Chalky Chic has certainly been a steep learning curve…

Perhaps I dived in too quickly and should have taken time to think about the branding beyond a website and business cards and if I was to do it again I would take more time to develop a clearer brand identity. I’ve also learnt to avoid using a particular material (for example Kraft card) just because it is a personal favourite.

However, it is not too late to get it right. I am happy with the basic concept so with some minor tweaks – such as paper stock – to ensure a cohesive look and feel, and I think I’m almost there.