Keeping busy and keeping calm

Alison Tordoff is an Immersive Designer, artist…and busy mother. So when she talks about ways to fill the days during a crisis, she’s calling on her creative talents AND her organisational skills. Here’s a selection of her Boredom Quenchers, Mood Boosters and Anxiety Calmers.


  • Chess
  • Pick up sticks
  • Tiddly winks
  • Walking
  • Bike Ride
  • Create a dog agility course from household items such as buckets and broom sticks
  • Get out in the garden
  • Re-arrange your plants in pots
  • Simple pleasures: the traditional game of Tiddly Winks

    Simple pleasures: the traditional game of Tiddly Winks

 Easy Makes  

  • Cushion with blanket stitch
  • Make an outdoor sofa from wooden palettes
  • Cushion from old denim
  • Hanging plant pot from a noodle pot
  • Cushion up-cycled tops
  • Blanket Stitch
  • Up-cycle furniture
  • Make a photo book
  • Make a painting
  • Make a lantern
  • Make a ‘jeans’ apron
  • Coat hanger bird feeder
  • Shelf styling with pictures/art
Upcycle furniture

Upcycle furniture

Mental health hints

  • “Four legs of a chair” approach…do one thing for business, home, self & community
  • Do small tasks and don’t get overwhelmed
  • Limit your news updates to just twice a day.
  • Exercise and get outside
  • Tidy your house! From small tasks to instant results with a box load. Need a break from the clutter – go outside for a while
  • Take one space, de clutter, make it your haven
  • Sort your wardrobe and donate to clothing banks
  • Listen to the radio/blog/story
  • Trouble sleeping? – Use Calm App stories.
  • Forest bathing
The healing properties of forest bathing

The healing properties of forest bathing


Money saving tips

  • Draft excluders on doors
  • Change lighting layers
  • Dishwasher: use correct programme
  • Look for eco-friendly home cleaning products
  • Burn dried coffee granules and grounds to keep pests away
  • Plastic strap to clear drains


  • Be creative: try new recipes
  • Use ingredients from your store cupboard
  • Pancakes: try new flavour combos
  • Clean your cupboards out and re-organise them.
  • Organise your herbs
  • Make a cocktail

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For the fun of it

  • Learn to play new instrument
  • Play your favourite tunes and sing
  • Maybe first learn to sing !
  • Record a song
  • Garage band

 Planning Ahead

  • Bucket list
  • Plan your next adventure
  • Plan your interior updates
  • Organise your photos
  • Learn a new skill online




The colours in your mind

Spring is well under way, one of my favourite times of the year, as colour comes back into our lives. But how well can you handle colour?

Audrey Hepburn, who was never seen in mis-matching colours, took the theme for her whole life, and would eat by colour to maintain a good balanced diet.

audrey hepburn

But apart from eating your greens – and blues – you need to know how to use colour confidently in design? Putting together complementary colours and creating a balance of hues, and the strength of colour can make or break the look you are wanting to achieve.

A quick science lesson: colour is derived from the spectrum of light and has three components – lightness, saturation, and hue.  With these components, we get the theory of colour.  The lightness is based on light versus dark, or white versus black.  Saturation is based on the brightness v dullness, or warmth v coolness of the colour. Hues are what make the colour we see and name.

What matters more to us is the impact of colour. There is actually a treatment – chromatherapy – which uses the effect of colour to bring about physical and other changes, and has proven health benefits. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right colours to have around us. But what’s “right” is always personal preference.

So even though I love spring, and gardens filled with bright yellow daffodils, I don’t particularly like yellow as a colour. But it is making an impact on the design scene now, and there are ways to warm to it. For me, it has to be muted tones like mustard yellow, or soft creamy custard. My entrance hall is a very rich petrol blue, and to add some spring colour zest I’ve added complimentary muted yellow accents.

Using colour: painting by Alison Tordoff

Using colour: painting by Alison Tordoff

How do you add the right splashes of colour to give vibrancy and balance? Simple touches can create a stunning effect, and adding colour to your interiors can really enhance the enjoyment of your space, whether it’s energising, uplifting or calming. Do you know, for example, that prison cells now tend to be painted a soft pink for its calming effect on the inmates?
In commercial environments colour can be really exploited to create visual impact and draw the eye, enhancing a company’s visual branding, but this would not necessarily be applied in the same way for your home, where you’re living with the effect day after day.. 


Immersive design and the mindful home

Mindfulness – where the likes of Philippe Starck and Ruby Wax converge, because mindfulness needs to be about mindful living. And as a designer who has worked with people at all extremes of the stress-level spectrum, it seems right to put some ideas into action. So let’s go through the home, room by room, and apply some mindful principles.

The bedroom: calm down

windermere room bed

Do you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep? Instead of fighting it, get up and go to  make a warm drink (without caffeine – decaf tea or just hot water) and snuggle up on the sofa with a duvet and watch some quiet and calming TV. No horror movies or anything that will trigger adrenalin. This should take your mind off whatever thoughts keep playing in your head. Eventually you’ll feel sleepy and switch off, back to bed. Or you could read, or listen to a meditation app,  whatever makes you concentrate on the here and now, and switches the chatter off in your brain.I read before I go to sleep… until I’m falling asleep. Other ideas include burning a few bay leaves on a plate to reduce anxiety; they smell great too. And of course yoga is great for detoxing, meditating and calming the mind as well as the body.

The living room: how to combat stress

Exercise is really good for combatting stress, anxiety and depression as it releases the feel good endorphins, increases neurone production and combats the cortisol production. So start the day with some Pilates stretches on the living room floor

Avoid emotional triggers, whether it’s a violent movie or one that makes you blubber. Put any potential confrontational situations at arm’s length if appropriate, or deal with it if you have to, then box it off and move on. You may then need to do some meditation, mindfulness or read to really take your mind off the problem and calm the anxiety reaction.Take time to learn meditation and breathing exercises, which can be hugely beneficial in calming the mind, or try a Sound Bath, a form of relaxation through music vibrations.

Understanding yourself and what you are dealing with is an essential part of healing yourself. For a lighthearted but fascinating read try Sane New World – Taming the mind by Ruby Wax and her second book Frazzled which is equally brilliant.

And try to avoid being reactionary. If you are stressed or anxious you already have a heightened level of adrenaline, so a relatively minor passing comment can irritate and annoy you. STOP. Do not react straight away. Think about what has been said, then try and look at it from the other person’s perspective and why did they say or do that. If it’s a text or email, read it several times as you can sometimes miss inferences or even words, that may affect how you react. Go away and think about it. Then if you need to reply or comment, do so in a calm, understanding, non-inflammatory way, saying “I do understand, perhaps….”. This quite often can defuse a situation from the outset, and reduce your own adrenaline reaction.

The garden: get your feet back on the ground

walking on grass

Gardening is proving a godsend for many right now, and the simple pleasures of growing flowers and vegetables can be soothing in themselves. But the garden is a space for much more; it’s a place to seek mindfulness, to be grounded. I occasionally go out into my garden and walk on the wet or dewy grass, because I like how it feels on my feet, I think about it and enjoy the sensation, just walking around the garden.

Be happy in yourself. Why do some people feel they have to ‘prove’ themselves, be demonstrable, confrontational or point the finger? When you are asked something or perhaps even be criticised, be confident in your own conviction, rather than argue back feeling like you have to raise a point. Simply reply with ‘Yes, I’m happy with what we are doing/ the decision I have made/ where I am at…’ etc… This can both defuse a situation and also say, in a polite way, it’s none of their business anyway.

Play music. Anything you love and makes you feel good, though preferably something upbeat or calming, even when you’re in the garden or hanging out the washing. Just as helpful, try listening to a podcast, a story or interesting talk show, or an audio book. This can be a very positive experience.

And don’t forget to laugh! Just by laughing more endorphins are released, so naturally it’s good for combatting stress and rebuilding neurones. Laughing is contagious. Research shows that in work areas where employees laugh and enjoy play time, productivity increases, defensiveness decreases and teamwork improves.

The office: brain overload

Harder than usual while working from home. Is your phone is constantly, pinging, whistling and demanding your attention, day and night? This is very distracting and not good for your brain, as it is constantly being bombarded with ‘splinters’ of information, some of which is utter drivel and quite frankly useless bits of information.

Manage your tech interactions and take control by switching the sound alerts to silent for the various social media sites. Then you simply allocate specific times of the day to dip in and have a look. This applies to emails too, in order to improve your productivity, personally or in business. Set your boundaries, be committed and manage it properly.

Sometimes you need to switch off the tech altogether. Phones, iPads, computers and TVs are all visually and audibly stimulating. They should be switched off at least an hour before bed, to let the brain calm and get off to sleep, particularly for kids. It’s recommended that children should only be on tech for a maximum of two hours a day. It is also suggested that we should not sleep with tech on the bedside, due to radio waves interfering with the brain waves and development. Research is under way on this but why not choose to be on the safe side. If you use for phone as an alarm, put it outside your bedroom door, or in another room, and buy an alarm clock.

But if you don’t manage to be perfect, don’t beat yourself up. Research, understand and make changes. Stuff in life happens. Official stats say that one in four of us will suffer a mental health event at some point in our lives.  But we are more aware of it and have a better understanding, which can only be good for everyone.

Maybe it’s time to give something back? Ever wonder why you feel good when you have helped someone? That’s because the endorphin release in your brain is massive. So volunteering for a good cause or helping some needy people, can have huge feelgood benefits. It’s also contagious. If you help, then people like to help in return.

And instead of staring at a screen….relax in front of a fire, watch the flames and listen to the crackles. If you don’t have a real fire, go find one in a cosy pub and relax. This is great mindfulness.

The bathroom: Doing things to dispel the dark thoughts

 Make your bathroom something more than just a functional space. Relaxing with candles, gentle music and soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts can help to draw out toxins through the pores and aid a good night’s sleep. It can also help to dispel dark thoughts.


The kitchen: don’t bottle it up

Make your kitchen a focal social point in your home. Eat with the family around the table (in the kitchen or dining room) rather than with a tray in front of the TV. That’s how the Italians do it, and they understand the value of family dynamics and talking through problems.

Acknowledge what’s happening in your life and take little steps which can lead to big and positive changes.

I’ve been on a journey that’s brought me to this point, a life event that has actually unlocked me. I feel I know myself so much better, accept my boundaries, know when I need to step back, make changes and where I want to head next in my life journey. There are many ways of dealing with and treating these symptoms, both naturally and with medication and you have to open your mind and find what works best for you.

If there is one word I can sum all this up with, it’s ‘immersive’. Be immersive. Maybe it’s the next stage on from Mindfulness.

Alison’s design photos show rooms at Windermere’s Cedar Manor hotel



How artists see the Lake District

Artists have been recording their reactions to the landscape of the Lake District for centuries. The early tourists were so over-awed by what they saw as a terrifying vista of hills and peaks that they wouldn’t look at them directly, and used mirrors, looking over their shoulders at the reflection as it was slightly less fearsome.

The pictures they painted subsequently were over-dramatised, the fells looking Alpine in height and shape. Later artists, such as the Heaton Coopers, faced the landscape head-on and produced work which more accurately reflected the shapes of the hills. (William Heaton Cooper really did face it head on, perching on ledges on rock faces to make drawings for the climbing guides to the area.)

Great Gable by Julian Heaton Cooper, Britain's leading living mountain painter

Great Gable by Julian Heaton Cooper, Britain’s leading living mountain painter

Paintings, and later photographs, of the Lakes found their way onto picture postcards sent to family and friends. There will be many armchair mountaineers who have never climbed a hill but would recognise Striding Edge from a holiday postcard. (Will they survive the new world of communication? Is the Instagram generation still going to buy and send postcards, I wonder?)

Poets, from Wordsworth onwards, found their own voices to say what the landscape of the Lake District did for them. And Alfred Wainwright,  with his drawing and mapping methods, gave us his passion for the unique atmosphere and scenery of the Lakes.

Raised in the Lake District and introduced at an early age to walking on the fells, I’ve always shared that passion. Even when I was studying and working in London, and later travelling around the world, I could still envisage the outlines of the fells. I saw them as Wainwright sketched them in his guidebooks, showing what could be seen on the horizon from the top of each hill.

Where art meets nature meets design....

Where art meets nature meets design….

put some outlines of those fells into my own designs, notably on cushions in the Love District range. Others are doing likewise, bringing together art and the landscape of the Lakes. Windermere-based painter, Marilyn Tordoff, is a good example. She’s an artist whose landscapes decorate the walls of many hotels around the region, as well as homes throughout the country, bought by people on holiday here.

It’s important to place and frame a picture in the correct manor. A single painting can be just as powerful as a collection of paintings, if it’s allowed to breathe, with the correct space and proportion of wall around it. The mount should never be mean, giving the painting proportion and plenty of focus on the art itself.

The wall colour that it sits on could be linked with the painting and turn the whole wall into a dramatic piece of art. The frame needs to reflect the required interior styling, i.e. minimal slim aluminium which virtually recedes into the background, or wide -even ‘over-wide’ -  and possibly carved, to add grandeur and texture. This doesn’t have to be old and stuffy. With a lick of coloured paints that suit the interior scheme, this can make for refreshing new take on an old favourite.


Wood you ever…

It’s magic stuff, wood. The effects of wood spread far and wide in my projects and I love its versatility.

The fast growing tree varieties are chosen specifically for the mass market, while other, slower grown, woods are so rare that they are embargoed and not allowed to leave their native country.

Even though it’s been around for millions of years, wood has moved on dramatically with modern machining and technology. It is still a sustainable, solid and dependable material, but comes in many more exotic forms like the striking lines of Zebrano, the warm hues of Padauk and the beautiful markings in Sweet Lime. Dramatic colour and pattern varieties come with the likes of Wenge, Ebony, Rippled Elm and Burr Elm.

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Many of my design heroes have worked in wood with great success.  Rennie Mackintosh was a genius at combining strong architectural lines with organic natural shapes.

The variety, colour and pattern of each piece in a wood creation can be considered a honed piece of art in itself, from rustic treatment to the organic Art Nouveau movement and the smooth lines of the 1960s.

The Gplan company was the first major launch of quality designed wood furniture following the Second World War and is now having a resurgence with the current retro styling and up-cycling trends. Gplan used more cost effective methods of construction by skillfully combining veneered and solid sections.

I reach for my all-time favourite resource book, World Design (derived from wood pulp) as my source of inspiration and research the design classics. Steeped in history, companies like Thonet produced the organic and classic bent wood coffee-house chairs, one of the most successful mass produced items of furniture with over 50 million chairs being sold in the early part of the 20th century.

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And today it’s still a style icon seen in many bars and cafes around the world. The world famous architect and furniture designer Le Corbusier was so impressed he used them in his pavilion at the 1925 Paris Design exhibition. Next time you’re out in a café or restaurant, take a look at the chairs and tables as well as the menu.

Though one of my all-time favourite architects Frank Gehry (still designing today at the age of 91) created the Easy Edges Chair, a ground-breaking design, out of laminated corrugated cardboard. Like the breathtaking irregularity and organic architecture of his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, he is always pushing the boundaries of form and function, and exploiting the use of everyday materials.

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Here in the North West, there are master craftsmen like Andy Smith, at Lakeland Fells Furniture, with his superb skills to bend, shape, curve, layer, turn and carve. I love the way that his carving is added to the most simple and basic of items, such as the new cocktail bar at Special Spaces in Windermere, with the turned bullseye central feature, and his use of different of pieces of wood, all different colours and patterns. The possibilities are endless. You can have anything in wood these days: lights, watches and even i-phone covers.




How to design your dream home

The property market is stone cold at the moment, but while we all have time to stop and think about how we want to live our lives in the future, we have a chance to think about the design of our dream home.

And it’s a time for dreaming, for making plans for when life returns to normal.

Buying a home is probably the largest investment you will ever make in your life. Anything you do to that property needs to be considered a further investment. And it all starts with design.

My clients are usually thinking of the ‘here and now’ and not necessarily planning a future-proofed design project. The future plans shouldn’t in any way be constricting and have a project tied up in knots so it can’t move forward, but there must be some basic theories set in place to remove any trauma from the transition to the next phase of the project.

Form follows function. It’s pointless doing anything if the space simply doesn’t fulfil your basic needs. Ask yourself how you want to live your life, now, in the next five years and beyond, and think about what activities will be carried out in each room. This will help to identify your aspirations and needs.

If major alterations are needed, you may be able to walk around the rooms imagining taking out walls and re-shaping spaces to make it work and, more importantly, flow better. Otherwise, work on plan; a simple sketch plan drawn to scale of 1:50 is a good so that every 2cm on your plan is equal to 1m in real life. Or if you are a computer whizz there is a free program called “Sketch-Up” which is very easy to use to draw up scaled plans. If you are feeling adventurous they can be turned into 3D plans, adding furniture and fittings.

Now for the image. Many people sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by choice at this stage and struggle to move forward. Start by collecting a group of images, flicking through the pages of your favourite magazine for example, and ripping out pages of things that you love.. and loathe. This will help you identify a clear goal for the style direction of your project.

Go through sites such as Pinterest for inspiration...

Go through sites such as Pinterest for inspiration…

You can also use online sites like Pinterest, Houzz and Olioboards for pulling together inspirational images and even products to buy. Later this can then be fine-tuned to help you narrow your search and source furniture and items to suit your scheme.

Don’t over complicate your designs otherwise it may look contrived and overworked. The simplest of things in the right setting can be simply stunning. And there you have it – a concept.


The time to live outdoors


As we head towards summer, we can head out into the garden to eat, drink and live.

There’s no greater indicator of the British capacity for optimism than in our love of eating and living out of doors.

Dining out of doors..and dreaming of the day when we can invite friends round again...

Dining out of doors..and dreaming of the day when we can invite friends round again…

In spite of the extreme unpredictability of our weather – and the fact that we have perfectly comfortable kitchens, dining rooms and conservatories – the outdoor furniture market at the last survey was worth something in the region of £975m.

It’s not just the increasing sophistication of barbecue equipment. We love to add sheds, summer houses, shade sails or canopies, and sun umbrellas into our gardens, to create outdoor living spaces. And it takes only a few days of good spring weather to bring about a profound change in mood.

Spending time outside in the fresh air and sun is relaxing and increases your vitamin D levels, which in turn makes you feel happy.

In terms of design, I treat the outside area in the same way as an interior by creating zones and generating different experiences as you journey through them. As well as the usual planting I try to do a couple of larger projects a year around the garden.

The great thing about garden design is that it’s seasonal; the colours and plant structure are forever changing naturally and this can be used to your advantage. Adding layers of colour and structured architectural plants can add variety and total flexibility, swapping them around as the plants come and go.

You don’t need to buy “garden furniture”. Imagine extending your social evening by moving your dining table and chairs outside, recreating your dining room. Use simple strings of exterior festoon lighting, scatter tea lights in sparkly jam jars, and add a full dinner setting with candelabra for a dreamy and memorable event.

It’s easy to add comfort and colour by throwing in some bright funky scatter cushions and fleecy throws for later in the evening when it’s cooler.

However you do it, just get outside and make the most of the sun.


Flaming fascination

There’s something mesmerising about fire. You can just sit and stare, and you don’t know why.

You’re there for the warmth, of course, but there’s more to it than that. And it’s something that fascinates people of all ages – and always has done.

Our ancestors, Neanderthal men and women, used fire for warmth, for cooking..and for protection. Fire extended the length of the day, providing light as well as heat, and fire warded off predatory animals and insects. Fire was the place where humans socialised, where they felt  safe as well as warm.

Fireballs – spherical firepits – by artist Andy Gage at the Firepit Company

Fireballs – spherical firepits – by artist Andy Gage at the Firepit Company

But why, thousands of years later, with electric lighting, solar-powered central heating, and efficient cooking facilities, does fire still have that powerful attraction?

One theory is that humans are born with an instinct to learn how to build and control fire, and if we don’t get that chance to master it, the fascination remains with us through our lives.

A child born ten thousand years ago – or fifty thousand or a hundred thousand – needed fire to survive and soon learned how to master it.

But today what we burn as fuel and how we build fires can differ according to place and circumstance. Some people have woodburning stoves in their homes. Others are dab hands at building a bonfire once a year.

And increasingly, there’s the attraction of a firepit or chimenea in the garden on a summer night. This is different from a barbecue; it’s not there for any real purpose, other than the wonderful chance to bond with others.

People tell stories around a fire; they always have done. People sing songs around a fire, and make music. Craftsmen make fires for a purpose, to make charcoal, which can then be used by artists.

And the rest of us? We just sit, and stare. We might see pictures in the flames. We might be inspired by the light of a fire. But the attraction of fire never fades.



Well buildings are good for your health

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There was a lot of talk some years ago about “sick building syndrome”. But now architects and designers are moving forward through the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).

It launched a movement to address issues regarding health and well-being within the built environment (issues which are somewhat overlooked by existing standards). From this the WELL Building Standard™ was established, with the aim to provide architects and designers with guidelines on how to make a real and measurable difference to how we function within our urban spaces. And even if your project doesn’t aim for certification the WELL standard offers an inspirational model when considering a human centred design approach.

The concept is known as biophilic design, and there’s a recognised accreditation ( which I’m working towards.

Biophilia at its most basic is the love of life or living systems. It’s our inherent human connection to the natural world. In an urban world of technology and industrial architecture, this fundamental connection can sometimes feel all but lost. Biophilic design  is an extension of biophilia. It incorporates natural materials, natural light, vegetation, views out and other experiences of the natural world into the built environment.

Cedar Manor look up

It’s all about sustainability, the fundamental values behind biophilic design being the emotional connection that people and places have with nature.

And it’s good to see that developers are increasingly engaging with architects on these principles when formulating a brief. By consciously including nature in interior or architectural design, we are unconsciously reconnecting; bringing the great outdoors in to our constructed world.

Seven concepts must be considered and fulfilled in the scope of a design: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Why does this matter? Why do we need “positive spaces”?

Biophilia: where nature meets art, at the Cedar Manor in Windermere

Biophilia: where nature meets art, at the Cedar Manor in Windermere

Designing with people in mind is a growing topic that can no longer be overlooked; the Human Spaces Report found that a third of global respondents stated office design affects their decision of where to work.

With over half the world’s population now living in cities, chronic illnesses are becoming increasingly prevalent. Globally, research shows, 76% of employees report a struggle with wellbeing, and work-related stress costs the US approximately €255 billion and Europe €550 billion annually. These issues indicate a clear need for healthier spaces.

Better indoor air quality can lead to an 8-11% improvement in productivity. Better nutrition leads to a 27% reduction in depression, a 13% reduction in stress, and overall better mental health. Being closer to windows makes us more productive, especially if there is a view onto nature. And adding plants into the workplace significantly reduces stress, health concerns, and sickness absence. When you think about it, it all makes sense.


Everyone Needs A Tree……Inside


We love trees. Ok so we are fortunate to live and work in one of the most beautiful parts of the world – the English Lake District, and let’s face it we are surrounded by them up here.

Architects and Designers regularly talk about ‘bringing the outside in’ and adding a tree into an interior can dramatically change the dynamics of the space. Trees are not just organic and calming to look at, they can be very versatile and used in so many different ways such as structural elements, space dividers, sculptural pieces, screens, light filters, textures, patterns and even as sound absorbers.

How cool are these?…

Turning legs into art. These culptural trees form the legs of the dining tables in this canteen.

Trees used as table legs in contemporary canteen

‘A Cantina’ in Spain by Estudio Nomada


This contemporary dwelling is literally built around the trees in a forest.

Corallo House by Paz Arquitectura

Corallo House by Paz Arquitectura



Here tree ends are being used to create texture, pattern and order.

Tree used to create texture and pattern

Fabbrica Bergen by Tjep



A sculptural and alternative way of hanging coats.

Wishbone coat hanger by Frost Design

Wishbone by Frost Design

We used this lime green coat stand in our Town House project and then carried the tree theme through into the guest bedroom with a bespoke printed fabric on the headboard and digitally printed wallpaper for the en-suite. Fun, funky and unique. Bringing the ‘outside in’, in a very different way.

Town House Master Bedroom

Town House Master Bedroom

Town House Project - Ensuite

Town House Project - Ensuite


Trees are great. Go hug a tree and bring one into your life today.