Category: blog

Dining for everyone at Refettorio Felix

Enjoying a hot meal in the company of others is important to us, maybe even conditional for the human spirit? So, when you are at your most vulnerable, can the moment that reminds us of what makes us feel human through the gestures of a meal, give the comfort of that things can change to the better? The Refettorio Felix project gives this a go and are making dining experiences that are for everyone.


Images by Denzeen magazine

The initiator Massimo Bottura, world renowned chef who runs Osteria Francescana in Modena with his wife, approach food like a work of art. The three star Michelin chef wanted to tackle food waste and combined it with also creating a community for people in need. He started Refettorio Felix in 2015, a dining place now in more than seven countries, where people who are homeless or have limited means can go to have lunch. The guests are served with a three course meal each day prepared by some of the best chefs using only food waste (the food is delicious).

Ilse Crawford, who brought humanity into interiors in our modern days, joined Massimo to change the tired community space of the beautiful St Chutberth’s church. All the prerequisites were there, with an enormous ceiling height, beautiful windows and amazing features.  One thing was missing though – the gesture of love. Ilse and her team transformed the space with small means into a beautiful dining area where people from all types of background can find some delicate refuges from the streets and come into a space that provides the comfort of home.

The calming green colours, down to earth choice of material such as the rice lamps that create big impact with their scale and with a repetitive pattern, fill a previously hollow high ceiling into something meditative to watch. The long table communal arrangement encourages the guests to start conversations with someone they didn’t know before.

The dining table is an interesting space to watch. As the dining table is vanishing from our homes: we find ourselves eating at the computer, standing in the kitchen, lounging on the sofa in front of the TV, in the car or walking along the street. What’s the point of a table if we prefer a meal on our laps?

On the other hand, if you have noticed the transformation of restaurants that has happened the last years, you would have noticed a big difference.  We see the usual two or four seating being replaced with long tables. The bar seating added for a new type of guest – the solo diner. The urban living doesn’t per default solve the human interaction need, nor does it sooth our loneliness. Isn’t dining together a quintessential experience after all?


If you haven’t been homeless (like most us luckily haven’t had to experience) you probably haven’t felt the extreme loneliness I can only imagine you’d be carrying. But what we can connect with is the short moments of feeling a bit left out and instances of feeling lonely at times. That feeling connects us and is crucial to understanding how important initiative like these are. Not because they will solve everything, they are still the utopia of how we should be thinking about equality and creating spaces for people who can’t pay for the luxury. Think about all the public spaces in a city, hospital waiting room, official buildings – it can be difficult to think that these were designed for humans in the first place.


To end this story I wanted to share an insight someone found after interviewing hundreds of people about their living situation. He found that people who had very little money to spend, they still want to feel like they have “something”. They would rather spend more on a few items (such as a new phone, an exclusive sofa etc.) if the object was related to their feeling of having dignity. The word dignity kept coming up and seemed to be is something that people always value despite how little they have.

I think the dignity aspect is important to remember as we design for people.

All images by Denzeen Magazine

I volunteered at the Refettorio and it was a wonderful experience. I could chat to people I wouldn’t usually meet in my everyday life and be part of a really great initiative that is making life a little bit better through the simple ideas of community, sharing and food. Read more about volunteering here:  Refettorio Felix
Additional information about the project: Foodforsoul

 

 

Habits in our homes

A little while ago I wrote about habits and why they work harder for us than resolutions. Let’s not forget there is something positive in the intention that is driving us forward. This is such an important life force, but it’s also about how we help ourselves along the way and subtly arrange details around us to support the formation of a new habit. Look at the items in your home; everything has a certain feeling or a character and can help you create the atmosphere you want for a new, fresh start.

In our home, cooking is very important to us and therefore I focus on the details in the kitchen. I’ve always had a dream of a kitchen with a long, rustic wooden table, where we could gather friends and family. However as our kitchen is small, without the space for a large table, I’ve managed to find a smaller table that fits in our home. Smaller scale but same kind of feeling.

What we focus on grows
One of the habits I will practice going forward, not limited to just 2017, is to be more mindfully present in my body and mind so I can see things more clearly, but also enjoy life more. I realise it’s more than a habit, routine or ritual, it’s more of a way of living.

The connection to all senses is something that I’ve learned, and got a taste for, from yoga and meditation. We tend to be very reliant on our sight and everything is extremely visual nowadays, but there’s something very exciting about plugging in and using your other senses too. Scents that lure your imagination or freshen the air you breath into your lungs, materials you use in your home and keep close to your body, colourful food that inspires the eye as well as stills the hunger, or a sound absorbing bedroom for a good night sleep. All these things can improve our well-being and help us focus on what we’re doing in that present moment.

Here are a couple of very simple ideas, a flavour to a home that helps you create healthy habits. How we organise and prioritise the things that we do every day or wish we did more of.

Making your bed in the morning, to ensure that it’s enjoyable to go to bed at night (and it doesn’t have to be perfect).

A selection of the books you’re reading with a notebook next to them for writing down thoughts and ideas that the books give life to.

Water carafe with a glass next to your bedside table so you remember to drink if enough.

What have you found works for you when forming new habits? What small adjustments did you make to allow for them to move into your life?

Mary’s nature story

Taking one step inside the home of Mary Maddocks is like being transported to a cottage in the Welsh countryside and leaving the South East London location behind the shut door. The cosy, warm and joyful feeling embraces you as you enter this Victorian house. The fire crackles and the smell of wood, mixed with the soft tones from sandal wood candles. The muted tones in soft kelim rugs, wicker baskets and the colourful, upcycled furniture grabs your attention and senses. There is no doubt that Mary and her husband are creative, down to earth, who care a lot about their home. You can see it and you can feel it.

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“It feels like our home doesn’t fit in the urban life, we forget that we’re in London”

The nature has a presence inside these walls, in the details of wreaths, dried flowers, sea shells, driftwood brought back home as memories from many walks along the coast, camping trips and outdoors adventures. The link between these places and Mary and Raoul is present and strong, these memories are the grounding roots of this home. The traces of the sea, woods and open fields are forming an atmosphere where you feel shielded and connected to your elemental self. “It feels like our home doesn’t fit in the urban life, we forget that we’re in London”.

The house Mary grew up in was warm, cosy, comfortable, family oriented and colourful. Mary’s mum is house proud but not a perfectionist about her home. It was a haven for my sisters and me, she tells me. Mary’s home today bears a resemblance to her childhood home in many ways.

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‘In my family home we had a lot of art on the walls’

The home is becoming much more than just a shelter and a place to restore. It’s now often our workspace, our shared space, a hotel or a restaurant. For Mary her home has definitely been the creative outlet she wanted and her way to express all of that creativity that wasn’t part of her day job.

Already from the beginning when Mary stepped into this house, which had lost its original features and not been looked after by anyone in a long time, she saw the potential and could envision what they could turn it into. This was the start of a year long project to transform this house into what it is today. The couple’s social life had to be put on hold, every weekend was filled with work at the house and staying with the in-laws eventually got tiresome, as you can imagine.

‘It was tough and afterwards I said never again, but maybe one day’

However Mary and Raul never gave up on their dream, despite lots of DIY challenges.  Numerous Youtube tutorials helped them figure out how to do everything from sanding the floors to laying a path in their garden. The attic is now a mini B&Q, filled with all the tools you need for a major home make over. On the question, would you ever considering taking on another project like this, Mary hesitates but continues: It was tough and afterwards I said never again, but maybe one day’.

img_6105One of my happiest memories is finding these tiles underneath a carpet cover.

img_6109Bringing nature home 

Every house is filled with memories and stories of people and big events and mundane moments made into something special. This house holds the memories of a young married couple celebrating their joint 30th birthday with all their close friends, introducing two new furry family members to their home and celebrating Christmas for the first time away from their childhood homes.

‘I think it’s more about the process, rather than creating the perfect, finished product.’

Christmas traditions were simplified and a bit stripped and this allowed for a refreshed perspective of what it really should be about – spending time with the ones you love.‘I think it’s more about the process, rather than creating the perfect, finished product.’

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This is a family home that is open and welcoming to everyone from Mary’s youngest sister in need of  a home to start her teaching career in London, second sister coming over at least once week, family visiting from Wales and many friends living close by coming over for dinner.

If you’ve been following Mary’s Instagram account @fleaandbear and blog www.fleaandbear.co.uk like I have for over a year you know that she shares inspirational pictures from her home and life. When I entered Mary’s home I was blown away because it was like coming into the world I’ve been following. It was like entering the world of @fleaandbear.

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In their garden you find a little shed which is normally a place where you store garden tools but Mary has turned this into a studio for herself. Here she is taking her inspiration from landscapes she has seen and portraying them with metres of yarn.

Just recently she took the decision to leave the certainty of being a lawyer to do something completely new. The road ahead is open. She is following her passion.

Embracing the everyday moments

On a rainy and dark February evening, I’m on my way down to the store to get some candles after finishing work. One of my colleagues catches up with me and we chat about our evening plans. I say I’m going to get some candles, and she asks me “Is there a special occasion?” I get a bit puzzled. I’ve never thought about it that way. Why would it be a special occasion? Running out on candles is like running out on milk for a Scandi, we use more candles than anywhere else in the world. The Scandinavian countries are ranked as the happiest people in the world’s year on year, so is there more meaning to the flick of a candle flame than we might first think?

Hygge ljus

Everywhere in the world people light candles to create a warm, intimate ambience. It’s the sort of atmosphere that provides safety and shielding from the world. In Sweden this cosiness is called “mys”, in Norway “cos” and in Denmark “hygge”. Swedes have turned cosiness into nearly a religion. Every Friday families around Sweden huddle up to make time for “fredags mys’” which would translate into “Friday cosiness”, where you have something simple to cook, preferably a meal where everyone can help out. Tacos is the main thing, followed by watching a film or playing games together. This has moved beyond being a trend and is more of a cultural tradition, as important to Swedes as Lucia or cinnamon buns. The Danes are also really good to learn from and they’re probably more known for creating atmosphere in a spontaneous way. Hygge is so much more than candles and sitting in front of a fireplace. Hygge is essentially a way of creating an ambiance in the everyday moments.

Grit Tind Mikkelsen, a Danish documentary filmmaker based in Copenhagen, describes hygge as an action, event or a sublime feeling. Hygge is a moment that appears naturally and is a state of being. “It could mean a simple moment for myself, drinking tea, or sitting together with a friend under the same blanket, whilst I’m reading and she’s watching tv. Together we would hygge.”

Hygge book

The Scandinavians’ ability to create this sort of intimacy, might come from the history of many long, dark winters where making a mundane moment into something more than just prevailing winter. That sort of simplicity, in turning a functional need into an almost spiritual one, might be what makes the Nordic countries unique. It’s about enjoying every moment, the way it is.

“Essentially hygge is an atmosphere and an experience; it’s not about physical objects”

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is coming out with ‘The little book of Hygge, the Danish way to live well’ in September. According to Meik, “hygge has been called everything from the art of creating intimacy and togetherness, cosiness for the soul to absence of annoyances. Essentially hygge is an atmosphere and an experience; it’s not about physical objects.

“I think the essence of hygge can best be describe as the pursuit of everyday happiness.”

Hygge is a feeling of home, being in the company of the people we love and where we feel safe and shielded from the world. Here we allow ourselves to let our guard down and take pleasure from soothing things. My personal favourite is a Cocoa scented candlelight. I think the essence of hygge can best be describe as the pursuit of everyday happiness.”

Hygge blomma

How does this translate into the British culture of creating a similar kind of cosiness? What are the typically British ways and expressions of the “hygge atmosphere”?

Helen Russell, the British author behind the book “The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country”, moved to Denmark together with her partner. In her book she unpicks the cultural traits behind the essence of Danish culture. I asked her to share her view on what the equivalent of hygge is to British people.

“In the UK, we’ve forgotten how to celebrate the simple things and be kind to ourselves, something I think the Danes are pretty good at.”

“I think that Brits already get hygge to an extent, look at the number of log fires in every house, obsessions with country walks and pub lunches. However we don’t prioritise it like the Danes do. In the UK, we’ve forgotten how to celebrate the simple things and be kind to ourselves, something I think the Danes are pretty good at.”

Something I’ve picked up on and that I think a lot of people would describe as utterly British is the relationship with drinking tea. When entering a home in the UK, you will probably be asked the question, “Shall I put the kettle on/shall I make you a cup of tea”? Then you’ll sit down and have a chat while drinking your tea, which to me is the essence of hygge. The rituals of making tea, or a toast for that matter, is very important to British people, and there seems to be a certain way of making a cup of tea that people hold dear to their heart. I think also this shows an intention of enjoying the everyday moments.

We are now approaching autumn both in Scandinavia and in the UK. Our seasons are fairly similar, with many opportunities to create an everyday atmosphere that feels nurturing and meaningful just the way it is. Let’s not wish our days away but practice a mindful approach in our life and let’s hygge!

More about:
Meik Wiking – Little book of Hygge
Helen Russell

Decluttering our homes

Everything is competing for your attention and distracting you from your focus. My husband and I have practised the art of letting go in our two latest moves. We had a spacious two-bedroom apartment, but after a while we didn’t see the need of having a box room that just turned into a dreaded space filled with bad conscious and guilt. We felt that the money could be much better spent on one more holiday a year or savings, that’s why we decided to move to a much smaller apartment. We could only take the most functional furniture, which meant that we sold some really nice objects.

We tried to be unsentimental about it and envisioning a simpler life. I can still regret that we didn’t keep a few of the items, however most of it I don’t even remember that we had. In the end I believe this is the right thing to do, I guess I found a slightly more balanced way of looking at what has true meaning and what is a commodity.

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I’m reading a book by Erin Boyle, Simply matters, where she writes about her simple lifestyle and how to keep our space decluttered. Who doesn’t want that? However it can become quite overwhelming from time to time as we often have an emotional connection to material things. This doesn’t have to mean that you put your own self-worth in what you buy. Perhaps you just cherish the items you saved a long time to buy, the incredible flea market find you grabbed the moment you saw it or your grandmother’s kitchen table that you inherited and all the memories you have from sitting at the same table with her as a child?

In the end, isn’t the purpose of decluttering and organising about removing the items without functional, beautiful or emotional meaning to us? That would leave us with more space to see the things we care about and what has deeper meaning to us.