Snooping Around, Part 3: Homes

As you might have deduced from the “Snooping Around” series, I like looking into other people’s lives. It’s nothing to do with being nosy or intrusive: I don’t wish to seek out gossip or to compare my life with the lives of others. On the contrary, it’s to do with learning about how other people live, understanding why they value some things more than others, and finding inspiration. “Inspiration for what?” you ask. Nothing in particular – I’m not a designer, photographer or artist, and I’m not redecorating. I guess, if anything, it’s more motivation than inspiration that I’m looking for. An idea of what I’m working towards; where all the studying and hard work is leading to.

I’ve always been interested in design (in its broadest sense), but I think studying physics has brought this interest out even more. Physics is very formulaic; not only in the literal sense of formulae, but also in the sense that you follow certain steps to obtain a certain result. There’s not much room for thinking outside the box, or at least not at the undergraduate stage. I find this incredibly stifling, and I’m always looking for an outlet for my creativity. This blog is one outlet (you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find the right word after years of communicating primarily using numbers and formulae), but I also read as many magazines and blogs as possible. I love how stimulating photographs are, how they can make you yearn for something in an instant, be it a holiday, new dress, armchair or even a lifestyle.

An Afternoon With… is a blog with lots of desire-inspiring photographs. Created in 2010 by Michael Mundy and his wife, Nhi Nguyen, the blog is ‘a project about people and their spaces’. Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll c&p what Mundy has to say about their project because I don’t think I could say it more eloquently than he has:

“This is a project about people. It is a project about our space and the things we keep and the things we don’t throw away. It is a project about looking for and finding connections we all have. It is about seeing yourself in these spaces.  Every picture is a portrait of the owner –  be it a room, an object or a view. Every portrait in the end becomes a self-portrait. So in the end this is a project about me.” 

The blog reveals very little about the owners of the homes and, although you could do your own research, it’s nice in a way to see the space as a blank canvas of sorts, and to form your own conclusions, without preconceptions based on the personalities that inhabit the space. Interestingly, whilst providing a certain amount of escapism, the blog also forces me to explore my own personality: the details in which one finds inspiration are, of course, the greatest reflection of one’s personal taste and style. That sounds very pretentious, doesn’t it?? Let’s just say the blog is aaawesome.

Edit: Just found another blog which delves into people’s spaces. Snoop Around was created by Nanna Dís Jónsdóttir (photographer), Valdís Thor (photographer) and Guðni Rúnar Jónasson (columnist), and is based in Reykjavik, Iceland. Check out this computer store that they photographed. Not a living space, but pretty cool, eh?

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Snooping Around, Part 2: Treasured Possessions

Today, the topic of conversation is treasured possessions. In particular, possessions that you treasure so much that you would risk your life retrieving them if your house was burning down.

Inspired by The Burning House, I spent quite a while thinking about this and came to the conclusion that there are really very few things that make my list. Gone are the days when I would have had to clear out the cupboards to save all the family photo albums and the memories that they hold because, firstly, I don’t have a huge number of printed photos from my childhood in England (they’re hoarded in Lithuania), and secondly, who still has photo albums?! Okay okay, there will of course be people out there who still print out every photo they take, but many many of us don’t. My closest substitute for the traditional photo album is a huge floor-to-ceiling board full of photos at university. The photos change every year, and are easily replaceable because they’re archived on my laptop (and backed up doubly, triply).

Which brings me nicely to the point of technology, and just how much it dominates the list of things that I would pick up on the way out of my hypothetical burning house. When did I lose the sentiment, the emotion, and the hope that my grandchildren might one day inherit something that has a story; a history? At this rate, the only history that my future grandchildren will inherit is my internet browsing history. So far, so tragic.

But think a little longer and I’m sure you’ll come to the the same clichéd conclusion that I came to – all that matters is the health and happiness of your friends and family (one’s own health and happiness apparently comes close to the top too). Diamond rings, antique bureaus, couture gowns and first edition classic novels are only treasured because there’s a story, memory or anecdote attached. Foster Huntington, the creator of The Burning House, says quite rightly that “a father of five in his forties would grab very different things than he would have as a bachelor in his twenties”. Aged twenty, I have many years to attach stories to inanimate objects (and to earn the money to be able to afford them) but, for now, my iPad is my friend.

Enough of the chatter. Here’s my selection:

[take 1 – the dog was feeling left out of the action]

Photo: The Burning House

Photo: The Burning House

  • Laptop
  • iPad
  • Phone
  • Camera (in my hands)
  • Chargers for the above (not pictured)
  • Portable hard drive
  • Purse
  • Favourite watch – the only slightly sentimental object – a gift from my parents for my 18th birthday
  • 3 x Ray-Bans – one pair to see, one pair of Wayfarers, and a knackered but loved 50th anniversary gold-plated limited edition from ’87 that used to be my stepfather’s
  • Passport
  • Jumper for warmth (and to coordinate with the blaze…….I kid)
  • Reading material to take my mind off the burning house (yeah, right). Wallpaper* and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin were to hand.
  • This month’s Moleskine diary, where I jot down post ideas, places to visit and, generally, things that I read or hear about that seem worth a Google search.

So what would you save? Have a good browse on The Burning House, make a list, and remember that all that really matters is that you and your family get out to safety. Your photos? That’s what your memory is for. And the Cloud. Nothing gets lost in the Cloud.

Snooping Around, Part 1: Desks

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for new blogs to peruse and I noticed that what I was really looking for was an outlet for my nosiness. I just love love love looking around real people’s houses, wardrobes, beauty cabinets etc. etc. I’m not a fan of celebrity gossip, but I’m quite happy to read all about your beauty routines, favourite wardrobe items and, in general, to see (preferably with the aid of many photographs) how one’s personality is reflected in their home, routine and treasured possessions.

Magazines will always be one of my main sources of inspiration, but one of the many wonders of blogs is that we are no longer limited to exploring the [often] airbrushed lives of the rich and famous; we can also glimpse into the life of the Average Joe. And what’s really great about that is that the Average Joe is very rarely just “average”.

In the next few posts, I’m going to share some of my favourite curiosity-quenchers in the hope that you will find as much inspiration in them as I do 🙂 First up, we have desks. Yes, you read that right: desks.

[From the desk of…]

I spent hours scouring the interweb for this, knowing that there must be a well-connected soul in the blogosphere with a penchant for desks and workspaces.

From the desk of… is a blog that is, in the words of it’s creator, Kate Donnelly, ‘dedicated solely to the canvas of the Desk’. As Donnelly says, the desk, for many of us, is a ‘second or third home’, somewhere where ‘hours upon hours pass’. And, for that reason, I love looking at people’s desks. There’s something incredibly personal about the way you lay out your desk, and the things that you choose to be surrounded by during your working day.

The blog seems to be populated mainly by creative types (lots of Macs), and, as well as the obligatory desk photos, there are also photos of some of the work that’s been produced there, and an accompanying interview to give a bit more context. It’s interesting how often the ‘feel’ of the workspace is reflected in the ideas that are conceived there (though I guess that’s not too surprising!). As well as picking up storage and decoration tips, it’s a treasure trove for inspiration when you’re lacking ideas (look around the desk too – posters on the wall, the chair, furnishings etc.). With all this deskspiration, I’m semi-dreading the time when I have my own space to decorate!

[Below, click on the photos to go the relevant blog posts. All photos from fromyourdesks.com]

I couldn’t choose a favourite, but isn’t the blackboard behind this desk brilliant? I love that screensaver, too.

Photo: Justin David Cox's Desk

And when your bike is this awesome, why not display it like art?! Oh, right, there’s no space for it anywhere else? Coulda fooled me… 

Photo: Matt Moore's Desk

I like the wall behind this one… 

Photo: Timothy Goodman's Desk

An Afternoon at the Dacha

DACHA /ˈdatʃə/ noun
a country house or cottage in Russia, typically used as a second or holiday home.
[Oxford Dictionary]

 

On the first day of the annual three-day Sea Festival in Klaipėda, we decided to leave the heaving city in favour of spending some time in the countryside at my stepmother’s family’s dacha.

The kids had lots of space to run around, and I had a chance to get through a bit more of Anna Karenina (thankfully, now finished).

Photo: We picked tomatoesPhoto: GreenhousePhoto: ShashlykiPhoto: Summer HousePhoto: BadmintonPhoto: Bees

Friends In High Places

It’s shameful how often I decline offers to socialise for fear of it being awkward, laziness to get ready, or “having work to catch up on”. When my tutor from university said that he and his girlfriend would be in Lithuania this summer for a friend’s wedding and suggested that we meet up for coffee, I said “yeaaah, sure, sounds greeeat” *big smile*. People always suggest meeting up but, more often than not, it never happens, right?

Emails followed, then an exchange of phone numbers, and even a provisional time and date. I considered “visiting my Grandma that day” or being “out of town”, but then I thought of this blog and remembered making a pledge to myself to try to be more like Yes Man.

As it happens, both my tutor and his girlfriend are really decent people, and we had a lovely chat over tea and coffee in this High Place (Restaurant ‘XII’) with panoramic views of Klaipėda and, apparently, a glass toilet (more investigation required).

Photo: Klaipeda ViewPhoto: Klaipeda ViewI shared some history about my home city (which I had memorised earlier that day after questioning my Stepmother), and spilt my tea only once. Most importantly [sappy, sentimental statement to come], I learnt that I should say “yes” more often, because drinking tea and pretending to be a convivial human being is considerably more fun than attempting to get to the end of Anna Karenina (forty pages to go).

A success by all accounts!

Home Away From Home

My feelings about Lithuania, my country of birth, are very much mixed. My mother immigrated to England when I was seven, and I was looked after by my father and grandparents until I joined her a year later. Based in England for more than half of my life, I feel in many ways more English than Lithuanian or Russian (my parents are both Russian). I’m certainly much more fluent in the English language than I am in Lithuanian or Russian, I apologise when someone bumps into me, and my passport says I’m ‘British’. Nevertheless, visiting Lithuania always feels like a homecoming. Every year, it surprises me how connected I feel to this small nation. The streets feel familiar, and it shocks me how well I can navigate my way around my home city, even though I’m sure I haven’t been to many of the places since my early childhood.

I’m enormously grateful for all the experiences and opportunities life in England has allowed me, but I do miss some aspects of life in Lithuania. I find the lack of snow and ‘proper’ cold in English winters unsatisfying, compared to Lithuania’s white winters (although these lose their appeal, when white becomes brown). Lithuania also tends to be sunnier and warmer than England in the summer, and I spend much of my summer visits here either lounging around on a beach or wishing my father’s flat had air-con. Other than the climate, I always look forward to filling up on stodgy potato-based food and, most of all, to seeing my family.

Photo: Pine Trees

Photo: Mushroom

Photo: Pine Trees

The mixed feelings come in when I see how different the quality of life is for the average person in Lithuania, when compared to the average person in England. From what I’ve seen, people have to work a lot harder just to get by, and I find this aspect of my visits fairly saddening. When I was younger, I used to say that if I won the lottery or became very rich, then I would spend my money on rebuilding the drab, grey Soviet apartment blocks. Now, I understand that this is the least of the problems, and there’s a lot to be done in terms of healthcare, education, corruption etc. before the aesthetics become a priority.

My family connections in Lithuania mean that I will always have a strong attachment to the country and an incentive to visit, but, even without the family connections, being in Lithuania brings back too many fond memories to stop visiting. However, at least for now, I can’t imagine my visits becoming any more than just that. After three weeks in Lithuania, I feel more English than ever, and ready to come home.

Here’s a restrained selection of some of my favourite sights in Lithuania…

Photo: BeachPhoto: BeachPhoto: Nida

Photo: Nida

The V&A (& Me)

Living in South Kensington, I’m lucky to be a mere ten-minute walk away from the Natural History, Science, and Victoria & Albert Museums. The irony is that I visited them more when I lived an hour’s drive from London, than in my last two years living in SK. In fact, until a couple of weeks ago, the only time I had been to any of these museums since I moved to London was almost a year ago, on a lunch date at the V&A. The date wasn’t a success, but I did fall in love with the V&A café.

Photo: V&A Chandeliers

The designers have cleverly juxtaposed these huge contemporary mesh chandeliers with the opulent surroundings. The combination works surprisingly well, and makes for a really sumptuous, but not pretentious, setting for lunch or afternoon tea.

Photo: V&A Chandelier

The variety and quality of food is also impressive for a museum, with a good choice of hot and cold dishes, sandwiches and wraps, and, my favourite, lots and lots of cakes and desserts (including enormous meringues the size of a teapot, which I wouldn’t know how to eat without making a huge mess).

I finally made some time to make another visit to the V&A and, more importantly, to its café, after my exams finished at the end of June. This time, instead of heading straight for the food, I wandered around the vast space for a couple of hours. It always surprises me how much bigger these places feel on the inside compared to how they look on the outside. On the day I was there, a large section of the museum was closed due to a workers’ strike so, fortunately, I didn’t feel obliged to take in the entire museum in one day. Even so, there was a LOT to see, and I think I probably only took in about 20% of what I saw.

Photo: Giles Deacon DressDress from SS09 Giles by Giles Deacon collection. Given to the V&A by Giles Deacon. The dress behind it is by Alexander McQueen, for SS10, his final full collection before his death in 2010.

One of my favourite things was this dress from the Spring/Summer 09 Giles by Giles Deacon collection. The slightly stiff, classic, elegant silhouette is totally Kate Middleton, and also a shape that I always drift towards (cinched in at the waist and flared A-line skirt to hide my out-of-shape thighs). The Swarovski embellishment is genius (though probably not very Kate Middleton). Sparkly Pacman, ribcage and chunky chain all together – really, could you ask for any more? Not sure exactly where one would wear it…perhaps its sole purpose is to be admired on a mannequin? If so, I think it has succeeded.

Photo: Giles Deacon Dress

Another favourite was this Moschino bag (below) from 1996. I was five in 1996, so forgive me for being slightly slow on the uptake of 90s fashion trends. Similar to the Giles Deacon dress, I like the witty twist on something that is often quite serious. It’s refreshing when designers don’t take themselves too seriously although, of course, there’s a time and place for everything. This bag is apparently meant to represent a scoop of ice cream topped with chocolate, and is intended to be a play on the idea that the fashion world is obsessed with size. The other interpretation was that both fashion and chocolate are guilty pleasures…though I would argue that fashion isn’t really a guilty pleasure.

Photo: Moschino BagHandbag By Moschino, 1996…isn’t the smooth, sleek leather fabulous?

It may sound somewhat trivial to talk about ‘mere clothing’ (or accessories), when there is so much ‘real art’ on display but, for me, there’s something accessible and covetable about an item of clothing because we all wear it: it’s a common denominator of sorts. Having said that, I do also admire and appreciate painting and sculpture, and the sheer talent of many artists.

Photo: V&A GardenI had lunch (a houmous and falafel wrap) sitting outside by this water feature. Quiet and tranquil, you wouldn’t guess that you were in central London. And that’s one of London’s many wonders – there are so many sanctuaries and hide-aways from busy city life, where you can go to recharge and emerge feeling relaxed and de-stressed. In a day of doctors’ appointments, this little escape from reality worked wonders for my sanity. As contrived as that sounds, I think there’s a lot to be said for treating yourself to an over-priced lunch, and enjoying some time on your own with just your thoughts and imagination for company.

Maybe when I’m back in London in October, I’ll be able to conquer the Science and Natural History museums too. What’s your favourite London museum or gallery? Did anyone get a chance to see the Yohji Yamamoto exhibition at the V&A? I got a glimpse of the impressive exhibition space on my visit but, unfortunately, didn’t have time to get a proper look before I left London for the Summer 😦 Must plan better next time…

A Fickle Nose

I’ve never been the one-perfume kind of girl; I’m always searching for a new fragrance, which can convey how I’m feeling at that point in my life. Hours spent in various beauty halls over the years have even helped me to develop a rather unimpressive olfactory sense, which I test with every over-perfumed individual that passes by.

If the array of perfumes that one owns says anything about one’s personality, then one look at my dressing table would tell you that I’m rather indecisive. The little glass bottles contain a myriad of fruity, oriental, citrusy and floral scents, and I definitely couldn’t pick a favourite. My mood, outfit and plan for the day dictate my choice of fragrance; a choice which, contrary to my indecisive nature, takes only a split-second to make as there is always one scent that encapsulates my frame of mind better than the others.

Photo: A Few of My Favourite Scents

A Few of My Favourite Scents

However, for a while, there was one exception to my perfume dalliances. Several years ago, my mum and I paid a visit to Liberty on a trip to London. There, I found a fragrance by Creed, which is, in their own words “a discreet family-owned perfume house dedicated to the creation of highly original fragrances of extravagant quality”. Founded in London in 1760, it soon became a supplier to the royal household. Today, seven generations later and still essentially a family business, the House of Creed operates from its boutique in Paris’ 8th Arondissement, producing exclusive perfumes for its loyal clientele.

The scent that captivated my senses was Silver Mountain Water (SMW) by Creed – a scent that I thought really could be my signature scent. Hints of the fresh, luxurious fragrance lingered on my jacket for a week, and the impression was lasting. At over £80 for a 30ml bottle, and with no Creed stockists near us in Oxfordshire, the pleasure of SMW was confined to visits to London. For years, I fantasised about adding the simple white bottle to my dressing table and, when I moved to London, every visit to Peter Jones on Sloane Square was marked with a spritz of SMW.

The Creed Stand at Liberty

Just over a week ago, I decided to celebrate the end of my exams with a visit to Liberty to explore the new Assouline Literary Lounge (I read a lovely post about it by A Girl, A Style). I was even toying with the idea of cementing my enduring love affair with SMW by indulging a large proportion of my student bank balance on a certain small white bottle.

Before we go further, I must tell you that the perfumery room at Liberty London is out of this world, housing an impressive range of niche and exclusive fragrances, which you wouldn’t find in the average department store (great if you want to find an individual scent that you won’t find your boss wearing). Sumptuous, opulent and intimate, it is one of the few beauty halls which makes the process of choosing your scent feel as important as I think it should. But, it was in this beautiful room that I found proof, if proof were needed, that my nose is as fickle as the British weather. Liberally spraying SMW on my scarf, it took me a few moments to notice that the scent failed to evoke the usual sense of effortless luxury. Once again, my dreams of a faithful perfume relationship were crushed.

The Perfumery Room at Liberty

All rather melodramatic, I know, but then I think the effect of perfume can itself be dramatic. It triggers the imagination, in an instant whisking you away to another world, a long-forgotten memory, a dream, a desire. Every so often I will recognise a scent from my childhood in the sea of smells that we’re exposed to every day, and suddenly I can be there in that moment again. Memories that I thought were deeply locked away in my past become crystal clear, but a perfume brings back more than just a time and a place. For me, perfumes (and smells in general) are intrinsically tied to emotions.

Although I don’t have a signature scent, many of my friends and family do, and I find huge comfort in embracing someone I haven’t seen for a while and breathing in their familiar scent, which wouldn’t seem right on anyone else. Whenever a whiff of a particular fragrance by Hugo Boss passes me by, I turn my head to inspect the man who’s wearing it. The scent instantly conjures up thoughts of my dad. My memories of him (he lives abroad) are so intertwined with this smell, that I can spray the scent on a tester card, close my eyes, and drift into the carefree summers that I spend with him. A holiday in a bottle.

On the other hand, I stopped using Calvin Klein Euphoria instantly, when I noticed that it was a favourite of my ex’s ex. And that is why I don’t think I will ever have a signature scent: my emotions are too emotionally tied to my nose. I couldn’t wear the same perfume in the throes of love and the depths of loneliness. In the same way that some women draw on a red lip for a boost of confidence, I know that a spritz of Rose Essentielle by Bulgari will make me walk a bit taller.

Photo: Rose Essentielle by Bulgari

Rose Essentielle by Bulgari

Perfume has punctuated the last ten years of my life, and my favourite perfumes are associated with particular periods in my life. Many of the bottles sit unused for months until I suddenly feel that they are ‘right’ again. A good example is Eau des Merveilles by Hermes. A gift from my mum, who bought it on a plane without smelling it, the little bottle was unused for about a year, until one night (after a breakup) I craved the strong, woody, masculine scent.

Now, having recently turned twenty, I feel like a whole new chapter of my life has been opened, and I look forward to punctuating the next ten years of my life with more scents, and the memories that will be associated with them. I’ve penciled in another trip to Liberty, and I can’t wait to meet The One. That is, until the next One comes along.

How about you? Do you have a signature scent, or does your fragrance of choice change with your mood? I’d love to hear about your favourite places to shop for fragrances!

Hello, you

Two years ago, I packed up all my worldly possessions to move to London, where I would study Physics at university by day, and explore the city that had captivated my dreams since the age of eight by night.

Being far more inclined to pick up a copy of Vogue than the New Scientist, I wasn’t convinced that Physics was the degree for me, but I couldn’t be more sure that London was where I wanted to study. Like in any city, there’s a sense that everyone is in a rush, always on their way somewhere and I couldn’t wait to be a part of this buzz.

After lectures, I would sit in little cafés with my laptop, a coffee in hand (I’m not a huge fan, but one can pretend…), and study (or people-watch). On my lecture-free mornings, I might wander down to Harvey Nichols and window shop on Sloane Street. I’d go for runs along the embankment, and, in the evenings, I would catch up with friends over cocktails.

Or so I thought. Study Physics I did, but London’s many charms were quickly forgotten as the assignments piled up, and the hours clocked up in bed went down. After my first year of student life, the summer vacation came as a relief from the constant string of deadlines, and any dreams of becoming London’s decidedly-poorer student-equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw were truly extinguished.

After three months of R&R at home in a small village with my family, I craved being back in London. I missed my independence, and I missed having the choice of more than one running route. This year, I told myself, I would make the most of London life. Surely it was all just a matter of time management?

If so, then I wasn’t very good at it.

Another sleepless year passed by as I did my best to stay atop of the assignments and other activities that I had signed up for.

Now, aged twenty, halfway through my four-year degree, and becoming progressively less literate with every equation that I squeeze into my head, I have decided that it’s time I stopped living from deadline to deadline and started living (full stop) – no more “coulda, woulda, shoulda”!

Join me as I search for inspiration, and document my thoughts on, well, whatever takes my fancy (as a guide, this is unlikely to include woodwork, gardening, or motor sports). Maybe, along the way, I’ll even get a better idea of the person that I am and what I really want to do with my life. I don’t have the legs to be Carrie Bradshaw, you see.