March 2012

March 27, 2012

Shopping in London: James Smith & Sons

You couldn’t call James Smith & Sons one of London’s hidden gems – after all, it’s been standing proudly on New Oxford Street with its handsome Victorian signage for 140-odd years. But there’s no way I could omit this veritable jewel from my ongoing project of collating the best shops in London.

James Smith & Sons is not only a London institution and one of its most esteemed heritage brands, it’s also a unique and wondrous shopping experience. But unless you’re on a bus heading down New Oxford Street, it’s easy to forget that it’s there.

Turn the brass handle, step over the well-trodden threshold and in an instant you’re transported to Dickens’ London, who incidentally lived nearby on Doughty Street in the late 1830s.* I like to imagine he glanced at himself in the mirrored panels on the shop’s exterior as he strolled down the street, cane in hand.

All manner of the most exquisitely crafted umbrellas, walking sticks and canes are tucked away in tall wicker baskets or displayed on the original cabinetry, which was custom-designed and made by a fitter to Mr Smith’s exacting specifications. If you dig a bit of London history, you could stand and gawk forever.

But enough about the impressive shopfront, let’s consider the wares on offer. This is the place to buy a quality brolly that will stand the test of time. The dodgy £2.99 plastic job you purchased in a panic would blush in shame compared to the fine examples on sale here, many of which are handcrafted in the basement workshop. The brand’s reputation for fine umbrellas is legendary, and James Smith was amongst the first to use the sturdy English Fox Frame structure, which has hardly changed in design over the years.

The umbrellas are charmingly divided between ladies and gents; pencil length and walking length; city and country. Take your pick from brollies with beautifully turned beechwood handles (a joy to hold), long leather handles with metal-tipped ends, and folding umbrellas with the most rustic of hazel root handles.

You pay for what you get, so prices aren’t exactly cheap, with a classic ladies city umbrella starting at £65. I love the wonderfully eccentric animal-head brollies – a beautiful ladies Fox Frame with a resin parrot handle will set you back £75. They also stock the most glorious ruffled French parasols by Pierre Vaux in myriad rainbow colours for £58.80 (not bad, considering I’ve seen them elsewhere for £100).

There is also an extensive range of walking sticks and canes, stemming back to those times when an English gentleman wouldn’t leave home without being properly accessorised with a hat and cane. The country collection includes some particularly wizened hiking staffs that Gandalf would have been happy to call his own. Don’t miss the collection of walking sticks with secret compartments for a pipe, dice, corkscrews or flasks. For £95 you can take home a maplewood walking stick which conceals two silver-plated cups and a glass flask for your favourite tipple. So very civilised.

My top five picks:
1. Gent’s traditional slim rolled umbrella with a ‘needle’ end and moulded resin Sherlock Holmes head handle, £75.
2. Smaller Sized Ladies Sun Umbrella, £65.
3. English ‘Fox Frame’ ladies umbrella with a resin parrot handle, £75.
4. Frilly Vaux umbrella, £58.80
5. Ladies classic city walking length umbrella with malacca cane crook, £65.

James Smith & Sons
Hazelwood House
53 New Oxford Street
London WC1A 1BL
Tel. 0207 836 4731
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Click here for a Wee Birdy map.
Click here for more Wee Birdy reviews in this area.

Opening hours:
Mon, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 9.30am-5pm
Tuesday, Saturday 10am-5pm
Closed Sunday.

* Charles Dickens lived at Number 48 Doughty Street between 1837 and 1839. It’s the author’s only-surviving residence in London, and it’s since been restored and turned into The Charles Dickens Museum which holds over 100,000 items including manuscripts, rare editions, paintings and personal items. It’s on my to-do list the next time I’m in town.

Shop interior photo and product photos courtesy of James Smith & Sons. The rest of the photography is by Wee Birdy.


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March 27, 2012

Birdy pick of the week

Susie Style Bubble is one cool London bird, and one of the few fashion bloggers I look forward to reading every day. I couldn’t resist posting this pic of her wearing Yang Du for this week’s birdy pick. Not too many girls could pull off a cashmere poncho with a outraged owl’s face on it.

You can read more about Yang Du and the exhibitions at London Fashion Week on Susie’s blog.


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March 23, 2012

Wee finds: 5 brilliant new things I’m loving for Easter

1. Donna Wilson for Rococo Chocolates
Lovely London-based chocolate shop Rococo have always been innovative with their creative Easter collections, and this year is no exception, teaming up with British textile designer-extraordinaire Donna Wilson.

The exquisite collection of hand-painted chocolate eggs feature Wilson’s distinctive and much-loved hand-drawn illustrations. I love the charming owl and pussycat set, as well as the Matryoshka-style Food Chain Easter egg. The packaging is equally sublime.
1. Hand-painted Rococo chocolate egg in bone china egg cup, £9.95.
2. Hand-painted Rococo chocolate egg with three Rococo ganaches inside, £17.50.
3. Hand-painted solid Rococo chocolate egg in Owl and Pussycat design, £13.95.
4. Hand-painted Rococo chocolate egg in lamb and bunny design, £17.50. each.
5. Food chain chocolate eggs with Donna Wilson designs, £55.

2. Belle & Boo
British illustrator Mandy Sutcliffe’s adorable Belle & Boo brand has grown exponentially since I first featured them on Wee Birdy years ago. The charming vintage-inspired children’s characters now inhabit a wondrous woodland world filled with bunnies, hot-air balloons and birds – of course – and appear on everything from book plates to dinner plates.

This Easter, Mandy has created a rather lovely collection of embossed tins, which are the perfect size for a handful of mini eggs. I adore the tin basket and the bunny tote bags as well, which are just the thing for an Easter egg hunt. They are available from Lark in Australia and Belle & Boo in the UK.
1. Easter basket tin, £3 from Belle & Boo.
2-5. Easter tins in assorted designs AU$7.95 each from Lark.

3. Fortnum & Mason
As regular Wee Birdy readers will know, I’m a huge fan of London heritage department store, Fortnum & Mason. I’ve also been a long-time admirer of their beautiful Easter eggs traditionally decorated with handmade sugar flowers, bees and ladybirds.

F&M have just released a video with their head chocolatier demonstrating the time and care that goes into each hand-decorated Easter egg.

This year, they’ve collaborated with British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood for the packaging of their Easter collection. The designed sleeves are lovely, but does anyone else yearn for a little more Westwood inside the packaging, à la Rocco/Donna Wilson?

Can you just imagine a collection of Westwood-designed hand-decorated eggs? Her signature orb would be an obvious starting point, but I can also imagine tartan and lace designs and all sorts of wonderful Westwood possibilities. I guess I’ll just have to dream on.

In the meantime, I’m loving F&M’s old-fashioned Jubilee silk egg box, £125, which features a garland of flowers and a keepsake hat pan, as well as their Faberge-inspired egg biscuits (above left) and the divine nest of birds’ eggs gingerbread biscuits (above right), which are actually modelled on real birds’ eggs, namely the magpie, chaffinch, guillemot and osprey.

4. Biscuiteers
Everyone knows that Biscuiteers does a smashing range of themed iced biscuits. But this year they’ve launched a range of gorgeous hand-decorated chocolate eggs, which can be personalised with your own message.

Starting at £25, personalised eggs need to be ordered 24 hours in advance. I’m also loving their Union Jack egg, which is particularly timely for the Jubilee year and their festive Easter cake, which is packaged in a rather lovely keepsake tin.

5. Haigh’s Chocolates
I’ve searched high and low in Australia for an exciting new Easter collection and Haigh’s never fails in delivering high-quality chocolately goodness.

I love the new muted earthy colour palette of their trademark hand-foiled eggs (above). This year Haigh’s have released a limited-edition hand-decorated egg with swirls of white and dark chocolate (AU$21.50). Their Easter collection also includes hot-cross bun chocolates with spicy fudge centre enrobed in dark chocolate, as well as an adorable line-up of chickens, ducks, hens, fish and bilbies. And I can’t resist Haigh’s chocolate freckles – they’re truly the best in the world.

What are your favourite Easter eggs? Have you seen something special in a shop near you? Tell me all about it in the comments below…

Click here to check out my top 10 Easter books for babies and children.
Want more Wee Birdy? You can find me most days on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.


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March 21, 2012

How to build an Easter book collection: top 10 Easter books for kids


I’ve been building an Easter book collection for Harry, and along with a few Easter-themed books, I’ve thrown in a few books about seasons (it’s Autumn in Australia right now, but when he’s older we’ll talk about the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere), as well as some books about bunnies and chicks (why not?).

I’m actually rather frustrated by the lack of good Easter-themed books around – you know, books with fabulous illustrations as well as a good narrative. So I’ve included a few vintage books into the mix, as well as ones that aren’t strictly ‘Easter’. Most of the books are from my UK Amazon book shop and my US Amazon book shop – but rest assured that I wasn’t influenced by my selection – to be honest, I’ve been quite desperate to find quality books, especially for older children. (And the grand sum of $1.20 in total Amazon earnings definitely doesn’t hold sway). So without further ado, here are my top 10 children’s books for Easter (a note: they are very light on the traditional Christian story, but you can find more books in my Amazon shops).

1. The Easter Egg by Jan Brett, £8.44 from my UK Amazon book shop and $11.74 from my US Amazon book shop.
There are few Easter-themed books that are as beautifully illustrated as Jan Brett’s exquisitely detailed watercolours. Kids will love this tale about decorating Easter eggs, friendship and love. It might inspire them to get creative with their own eggs, too.
Click here to buy it from UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy from my US Amazon book shop
.

2. Happy Easter, Peter from Frederick Warne and Company, £4.98 from my UK Amazon book shop and US$7.99 from my US Amazon shop.
Beatrix Potter purists may be horrified by this simplified and stylised Peter, but it’s a sweet little book for babies and toddlers, who’ll enjoy all the colourful illustrations of easter eggs while they open and close the tabs.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon book shop.

3. Seasons by Blexbolex, £11.25 from my UK Amazon book shop and $13.57 from my US Amazon book shop.
A hands-down winner. If you haven’t already got this incredibly beautiful book for your child, use Easter as the perfect excuse to buy it. It’s not an Easter-themed book but it’s the perfect starting point to discuss the changing seasons and the life cycle, whether you’re based in the Northern hemisphere or down-under. It was the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2010 and can be enjoyed by kids of all ages, starting from zero.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon book shop.

4. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward and illustrations by Marjorie Flack, £5.63 from my UK Amazon book shop and $9.99 from my US Amazon book shop.
A classic Easter tale written in 1939, this special edition comes with a golden shoes charm. No Easter book collection would be complete without it – and it’s got a surprisingly feminist theme, as well, as mother bunny sets out to challenge the patriarchal order of male Easter Bunnies. Go mother bunny!
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon book shop.

5. Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Easter: With Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer
by Deborah Heiligman, £4.99 from my UK Amazon shop and $6.95 from my US Amazon shop.
I had a terrific book when I was young about all the different cultural and religious Easter traditions around the world, so I’ve been looking for something similar for Harry. This is a good starting point but it is limited to Christian traditions.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon shop.

6. Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco, £5.39 from my UK Amazon shop and $7.99 from my US Amazon book shop.
Pre-schoolers and children up to eight years will adore this gentle story about an old Ukrainian woman Babushka, who paints the most incredible easter eggs. But she gets more than she bargained for when she adopts a wounded goose. Amazingly vivid illustrations of traditional hand-painted Ukrainian Easter eggs.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon shop.

7. The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, £4.43 from my UK Amazon book shop and $8.99 from the US Amazon book shop.
Another vintage Golden Book classic with beautiful illustrations by Leonard Weisgard of the sweetest little bunny and a newly-hatched chick. It’s not strictly Easter, but your child will love the charming story, playful illustrations and theme of friendship.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon book shop.

8. I am a Bunny by Ole Risom. Illustrations by Richard Scarry, £3.79 from my UK Amazon book shop and US$5.99 from my US Amazon book shop.
This book is a personal favourite and if you like mid-century illustrations and Richard Scarry, you’ll dig it too. Written in 1964, the book follows the changing seasons, as seen through the eyes of a little rabbit called Nicholas. It’s not an Easter-themed book, but it’s too beautiful to ignore (and the double-page of daffodils, dogwood and jonquils is sublime). Harry has loved reading it since he was eight months’ old.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon book shop.

9. Where are Baby’s Easter eggs? By Karen Katz, £4.59 from my UK Amazon book shop and $7.99 from the US Amazon book shop.
For some reason, babies never tire of lifting flaps in books, and this one is a beauty because the flaps are big, making it super-easy for little hands. A great first Easter book.
Click here to buy it from my UK Amazon book shop.
Click here to buy it from my US Amazon book shop.

10. Chick by Ed Vere, AUD$9.05 from the Book Depository.
I bought this book for Harry’s first Easter last year, and it’s his current obsession – I must have read it to him eight times today. It’s a very basic story – a chick hatches, eats, poos and sleeps – but the graphically simple illustrations that pop-up are rather striking. And it’s very cute, too. Toilet-trained toddlers will love the poo bit.
Click here to buy it from the Book Depository.

What about you? Do you have an Easter book collection? What’s your favourite Easter book?

Photography of Harry’s book shelves by Wee Birdy. And yes, they are those IKEA Spice racks.

Want more Wee Birdy? You can find me most days on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.


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March 19, 2012

Happy birthday, Harbour Bridge

Happy 80th birthday, dear Harbour Bridge!

I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to your magnificence than through the eyes of another extraordinary Australian, photographer David Moore.  One of our nation’s greatest photographers, David observed and documented you over the decades, always capturing you in the best light and most beautiful moments, as you presided over his beloved Sydney harbour.

From top, Sydney Harbour after sunrise looking east – 1963
Second row, from left: Morning peak traffic on Harbour Bridge – 1959; and The Rocks district from Harrington Street – 1960
Third row, from left: Harbour Bridge structural details – 1981; and The bridge at night from Milsons Point – 1993
Fourth row, from left: Darling Street, Balmain – c. 1947; and Harbour Bridge structural details – 1981.
All photography copyright David Moore.


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March 18, 2012

Birdy pick of the week: Matt Sewell’s birds for the V&A

I’m actually a bit embarrassed that I’ve never mentioned Matt Sewell before on Wee Birdy. It’s a disgrace, really, considering that this British artist, like me, has been posting a “Bird of the Week” on his blog for the past few years. The only difference is that Matt’s birds are his very own watercolours. His passion for bird-watching is apparent throughout his quirky art, and his birds are infused with delightful details and character quirks.

So I was beyond delighted to discover this gorgeous new range of wooden birds he’s made exclusively for the sublime V&A shop. (Bravo to the V&A Shop, too, for snapping up this talented artist for their spring/summer 2012 collection.) Each bird is handmade and painted by Matt, and was inspired by the V&A’s archives. Little Owl, for instance, was based on an etching from the earliest hand-coloured book of English birds, The Natural History of Birds by Eleazar Albin (1731-8).

Matt’s sweet stylised versions are made using reclaimed wood and FSC accredited pine, and come packaged in a hand-printed nesting box. Swoooon.

I want them all, but if I had to choose one, I couldn’t go past the lovely little Strawberry Thief, who comes with his very own strawberry. Which one would you choose?

Top, ‘Strawberry Thief’ Wooden Bird by Matt Sewell, £85, from the V&A Shop.
Bottom left, ‘Little Owl’ Wooden Bird by Matt Sewell, £85, from the V&A Shop.
Bottom right, ‘Nuthatch’ Wooden Bird by Matt Sewell, £85, from the V&A Shop.

Click here to read my full review about the V&A Shop.


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