A design icon back on our rails

There’s been rejoicing this week as trains left the main line station at Oxenholme bound for end of the branch line Windermere.

It’s not just that we have trains again after the Northern Rail fiasco left us without any service at all for several weeks.

It’s because we’ve seen the return of a design icon, a 40 year old diesel engine which links us to the glorious days of rail travel.

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

West Coast Railways, which specialises in steam-hauled charter excursions, stepped in to restore services after Northern, the regular passenger operator, replaced services with buses.

Passengers are now travelling free on the 10-mile route from Oxenholme to Windermere six times a day. The Department for Transport is reported to be meeting the £5,500 daily running costs.

The engines have no nameplates. One is a Class 37, dating from the 1960s, the other is a Class 57 (re-engineered in early-2000s from a 1960s-built loco). They are, ironically, only slightly older than many of the 1980s Pacers which normally operate on the line. But they look like “proper” trains, ones that reminds us of the romance and glamour of the days when the railways projected the mystique and allure of train travel in ways that weren’t simply about speed.

The Flying Scotsman, the Silver Jubilee, the Coronation Scot and the Cheltenham Flyer: in their heyday these classic British expresses were not only the fastest trains of their kind in the world, but a synonym for character and luxury, too.

Many of the things that made rail travel pleasurable have disappeared. Certainly  in Britain we seem to have lost the knack, deployed by the old railway companies, of harnessing the innate love of trains that seems to run through our DNA. Gone are railway stations built like cathedrals rather than concrete boxes, haute cuisine in the dining car, cosy compartments, seats that line up with the windows, cheerful porters on platforms.

By contrast think of modern railway stations designed elsewhere by Santiago Calatrava which epitomise style and artistry in architecture.

Calatrava train station

Calatrava train station

So a huge thank you to West Coast Railways , the independent heritage train operating company which usually specialises in operating charter trains along some of the UKs most famous and scenic routes and to many beautiful destinations.

It’s not quite the Flying Scotsman or the Orient Express, or the Night Mail of Auden’s poem, or our favourite fantasy railway, the Hogwarts Express, but it’s brought a reminder that design needs to play a part in the most functional areas of our daily lives.

And here’s the timetable:

train timetable


Creating the WOW factor in design

Understanding the psychology of interior design is to see what creates the wow factor.

It’s visual, of course, so you will already have looked at the projects on this website and said, “Ooh” and “Ahhh” and “Wow, I want to go there”.

The image that makes you catch your breath will have a certain amount of order, semblance and detail, but not too much clutter. Lighting is key, as creating dynamic pockets of light and shadow can transform an interior.

Pockets of light and shadow……

The statement that  ‘Your interior should reflect you personality’  is rather odd, as your interior style may also be influenced by the period of the property, your budget (or lack of), your likes and dislikes, and family heirlooms that you simply can’t part with.

As a penniless student I was so captivated by a beautiful hand carved Art Nouveau headboard on a market stall for £80, I just had to have it. Twenty-something years later I’m still the proud owner and admire it every night. It’s a very versatile period piece and despite my home having a more minimalist style, it can be mixed with anything to make a more contemporary setting, ironically making it timeless.

I’ve never met anyone who is a completely blank canvas and has no idea what they like. They usually do have an opinion and when I start to extract a brief, saying what they don’t like comes quite naturally.

A client came to me with a brief for their five bedroom new build home : ‘Like Malmaison…but not as dark…’ Even though the Malmasion Hotel signature style is dark, quirky and gritty, I understood where my client was coming from. We also threw in a bit of country farmhouse and some local Hadrian’s Wall influence, to produce some lovely earthy and gritty results, with drama.

But what a challenge it would be designing an interior for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg . He says he doesn’t want to expend any energy deciding on what coloured T shirt to wear each day, so he has a wardrobe full of the same grey T shirt. But even in Mark’s virtual world I’m sure he will have an opinion of what he doesn’t like.

It is pointless, of course, having a space that looks stunning if it simply won’t function. It will look a mess in no time and the labour involved in its upkeep takes away precious hours that should be spent on more important things in life.






Loving to live outdoors in the sun

Are you just loving this weather!

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

And now that we have the first real taste of the sun for many months…we are all “out there”.

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.

Garden design by Kirstyn Fox from Lakeland Garden Design

Garden design by Kirstyn Fox from Lakeland Garden Design: the Cottage at Hill Top, once the home of Arthur Ransome, now a luxury holiday house

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.


WELL buildings are good for mental health

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 (https://www.wellcertified.com) that I’m now following, aiming to become a WELL Accredited Professional. And I’m working with the local experts Epixx at their new showroom to explore putting ideas into practice.

WELL notes seven concepts that 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”?

well building

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.

In Mental Health Awareness week, we feel it’s important to start taking these issues seriously. We’ll report back with further findings.



An angel for the north-west?

The tourist board website Go Lakes ran an entertaining April Fool featuring the Cucumbria, a building to rival the London Gherkin as part of plans to turn Carlisle into the new financial hub of the north.


The Cucumbria April Fool

But joking apart, Cumbria – indeed, the entire north west – truly does need and deserve a new iconic monument. Maybe it would be a functional building like the Gherkin; maybe it would be “just” a structural work of art, our own Angel of the North West. Whatever its form and purpose, design has to be at the heart of the project.

Anthony Gormley’s monumental Angel of the North is 20 years old this year. According to Gormley, the significance of an angel was three-fold: first, to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries; second, to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age, and third, to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.

angel of the north

After initial resistance and controversy, the Angel is now well loved, and is considered to be a landmark for North East England. It’s been listed by one organisation as an “Icon of England”, often used in film and television to represent Tyneside.

So taking that as a point of inspiration, what should we want for an icon of North West England? Along with Gateshead, Falkirk has two, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park has loads of them. Here in the Lakes we do have Grizedale, the UK’s first forest for sculpture.

But as we are catapulted into the limelight on an international stage, shouldn’t we be celebrating our new UNESCO World Heritage status with our own beautiful sculpture?

Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, says awareness about the county’s “unique” offering must be raised. Cumbria is one of the “most exciting and creative places” in the country – but more must be done to help locals appreciate what is on their doorstep.

“Cumbria’s natural environmental riches continue to provide the inspiration and how they should be blended with the talents of contemporary artists training locally. There are strong economic benefits to investing in arts and culture,” he added.
With an area rich in art and culture it seems like a very natural and appropriate case to make. Renowned artists and sculptors have lived and breathed the drama of the Lake District for hundreds of years and thought it the best place for their life’s work.

Ruskin, Coleridge, Wordsworth; artists like Beatrix Potter, the Heaton Coopers, Ophelia Gordon Bell, and then Kurt Schwitters, Josefina de Vasconcellos, Andy Goldsworthy and Anthony Gormley, have graced our countryside with inspirational creativity.

The Great Place: Lakes and Dales project which aims to create a “sustainable, resilient, creative community and economy, which will retain and attract younger people and business to the area to influence, support and create our future economy” identifies that areas rich in arts and culture are preferred habitats for young people and families to live in.

It will take more than just architectural and artistic innovation. Twenty years ago the Gormley masterpiece cost £800,000 to construct, with most of the project funding provided by the National Lottery. We need investment, along with a competition to find the most startling and dynamic piece of work worthy of our region.

My own inspirations from around the world includes Anish Kapoor with his simple and monumental pieces. This could be a modern interpretation of the Bowder Stone with reflections of the landscape. Or perhaps an environmental statement in reaction to plastic waste, or a beautiful figure rising up out of a lake.

bowder stone

The Bowder Stone: inspiration for sculptural artists?

Controversial? Yes, of course. But inspirational art often is and it goes with the territory of being on a world stage.


Goodbye man cave, hello she-shed

Ever since Katy Brown helped Calamity Jane to transform her cabin in the woods outside Deadwood City, women have been drawn to small spaces.

And yet the garden shed or summerhouse remains stubbornly a male accessory. How often do you see on TV property programmes the male partner enticed with the promise of his own man-cave at the bottom of the garden.

Why should it be only the man who needs an escape from the house? It’s not as if he needs a break from the household chores. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, equality is not having much impact on the domestic front. Women still do more housework and childcare than men, especially between the ages of 26 and 35.The ONS said that, when it came to unpaid chores at home, women were doing almost 40% more than men on average. Men averaged 16 hours a week helping out at home compared with 26 by women, with those on maternity leave doing the most.

So it’s clearly women who actually NEED that refuge, that multi-purpose, multi-functional space at the end of the garden. It’s a woman-cave that needs to be designed.

And lo! Here is the Fidget Design Chic She-Shed coming up. It’s small but perfectly formed, a structure with a stargazing glass roof, sleeping deck, summer house, workshop, bike store and log store all in Eco SIPS panels*.

shed design

Here I will sit and gaze at the trees in the garden, like Japanese ‘Forest Bathing’. Close my eyes and listen to the bird song coming from the beech hedge. Create and paint my art canvases. Play my favourite tunes. Up-cycle my latest furniture-find into something of style and beauty (and make a big mess!).

forest bathing

I’ll sunbathe and read a book with a cool refreshing Mojito in hand. Escape on the bike into the hills and return to the warmth of the Biofuel Eco stove, switch on the LED mood lighting powered by the solar roof tiles, drink tea and eat nibbles, while watching the sun set, the trees turning into silhouettes and the bats flying. Snuggle up in a cosy down duvet on the sleep deck and watch the stars and space station fly over. Use my iPad to track the stars.

Yes, it’s only at the design stage. But hey, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?


*SIPS (Structural Insulated Panels) Eco Panels are an advanced form of pre-insulated frame that are an evolution of timber-frame, offering all of the benefits of a quick, off-site form of construction, with the solidity of other forms of construction.  SIPs are high quality, environmentally friendly, highly insulated and very quick to erect.


Food for thought in the kitchen

In the final part of an occasional series about mindfulness, we head to the kitchen for immersive therapy

The kitchen is the most important social room in your house, and the best place to encourage friends and family to open up and talk it through.

Whatever the issues, talking is good. Really good. And it’s amazing the number of people who have been there, understand and genuinely do care about you. So invite friends around, cook food together, share dinner, share problems. Share some wine, but not too much, and cut out the caffeine after 3pm. That includes, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, coke and other fizzy drinks. There are plenty of wonderful herbal drinks and teas around now.


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 the symptoms of anxiety, cares and worries, 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. I think it’s a better descriptive word than mindfulness.

teatwoel and apron1

Loving life in the kitchen with mug (above) , apron and tea towel from Alison’s Love District range



Loving life in the kitchen with mug (above) , apron and tea towel from Alison’s Love District range


Six of the best: Easter eggs for designers

A festive look at the egg-shaped designs that show how artists, designers and architects have been influenced by what the chicken laid….

egg-chair-01-15150841321: The Egg Chair. Smooth, rounded oval at the back, opening into a winged, organic armchair that nestles the occupant: Arne Jacobsen designed Egg™ Chair  in 1958, as part of a commission for the SAS Royal Copenhagen Hotel in Denmark. It’s still produced in Denmark, by the original manufacturer, Fritz Hansen


solar egg2: Bigert & Bergström  created this sculptural chamber in the form of an egg-shaped sauna that has been installed at Luossabacken in Kiruna, northern Sweden

3: This floating egg  floating egg by Stephen Turner  was a collaborative  project between the artist, Space Place & Urban Design (SPUD) and architects PAD Studio to show how the arts can engage with environmental issues, generate new perspectives and how collaborative working between a range of professionals can facilitate this


4: The ultimate in giving back to nature, (below) these egg-shaped biodegradable burial pods allow burial spaces to be transformed from desolate graveyards into lush memorial forests. Made by Italian firm Capsula Mundi



egg lights

5: The divine Gregg table lamp by Foscarini, in satinized free-blown glass, available in three sizes. An organic, elegant and familiar shape that does not use pure geometry as its point of reference

6: Intelligent architecture by James Law, this futuristic egg-shaped structure, called Cybertecture Egg, in Mumbai is a perfect example of the blend of iconic architecture, environmental design, intelligent systems engineering. The building was commissioned by Vijay Associate (Wadhwa Developers)

cyber egg


Five top tips to beat dark thoughts

“A great cause of the night is lack of the sun….”*

Our latest in the series of mindfulness offers Five Top Tips to beat dark thoughts….

1: 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 bathroom here is a Fidget design at the Cedar Manor Hotel 

Coach House suite bathroom small

2: Have an adventure. A change is as good as a rest. Go away somewhere, maybe just for a weekend or a month or more. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are taking yourself out of your normal environment and you are totally immersed in exploring somewhere new. If money is tight, stay with family or friends and maybe even reconnect with old pals. Adventures can be small ones, you don’t have to climb every mountain.

3: Become a dancing queen or king. Even just watching that sequence will lift the spirits. It’s fun, enjoyable and exercise. You could take up classes in salsa or tango, or just dance around the kitchen while cooking dinner.

4: Try writing it out of your system. I tried a creative writing workshop for the first time, and the different ways in which we applied each exercise proved to be excellent at focusing the mind and making me think in a different way. The quality and creativity that I produced at just a one-day day workshop was amazing. And follow the most inspiring wordsmith @RobGMacfarlane on Twitter for his word of the day

5: But do seek help if things are getting too much. If you have never had depressive symptoms before, you don’t necessarily understand what’s going on. If you feel overwhelmed, helpless, despair, can’t think straight, can’t make decisions, can’t be bothered, feel anti-social, tearful, think introspectively a lot and feel low, then you should go and talk to your GP.

*Shakespeare: As You Like It





This above all: to thine own self be true*


This week we look at the conflicting demands of technology that are a barrier to mindful living

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.

bath text

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.

Poor memory? Foggy brain? About to say something…and ‘poof’ it’s gone? This is because your brain is overloaded and simply doesn’t need to remember non-essential things. It can also be age or menopause related. If you are concerned about this go and talk to your GP.

Otherwise, learn the value of the –to-do list. If you are struggling to remember things, use to do lists on your phone or a small note pad.

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.

If you still feel your job is stressful, then remember that life is not a rehearsal, and we are only on this planet once. Do yourself a huge favour and consider making a change. This can be very scary but can literally be life changing, put a spring in your step, the love back in life and you may be a much nicer person to be around. Life is too short.

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.