Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

3 Oct 2019

Amara IBA Interior Blog Awards 2019

After five years of being nominated I finally made the shortlist of the Amara IBA Awards - 'Best Use Of Photography". I never thought it would happen and I'm over the moon because this year it is more significant than ever. Cancer takes away everything that you are, it certainly is a leveller, it shows no discretion, and it makes you feel that you are just a statistic. To feel recognised by your peers and your friends for something you love is just unbelievable.

I've documented quite thoroughly just how gruesome the treatment is and to get my head into the right space I just approached it like it's a job that will last about a year, it won't be enjoyable but it's essential to get that job done and out of the way, because unless you do you can't continue with the things that make you tick. And, of course, what makes me tick and has done since at age 18 my Dad bought me my first SLR Pentax camera ... photography. I think he would be very proud of me being shortlisted.

I'm now at month eight of solid treatment and now that chemo is over and I've started to recover from that and the shingles, and the infections. My taste is coming back, I'm sleeping better and I'm managing to take more photos. The latter of which makes me really happy. So to be recognised for my photography in a year when I've been struggling to lift the camera, well, that means everything. At age 60 I never want to stop learning about this art and my next mission will be to see if compact cameras can work for me.

With the return of some energy this week I've been changing the house over to a more autumnal look and for me I just love to style with nature. The open fire has been an enormous comfort so I styled up a log pile as best I could (I really wanted a fire this week) and I've made an 'autumn forest' theme on the mantlepiece. In the kitchen there are still a few geraniums flowering but my favourite decoration this time of year is pumpkins.

The Amara awards are Interiors based and while I'm not blogging about that in every post, it is never far from my mind while recovering at home. I felt that to go through cancer treatment and not blog about all the emotions tied in with that would not sit with my ethos of honest blogging and my approach which attempts to be non preachy and non superior. This nomination has made me think more about how photography ties in with the home and here's my thoughts about that ... it's all about the light. 

My house is timber framed, six hundred years old and so there's a lot of wood around. The downward beams in the walls (there's a special name for these which I can't remember) create a huge styling challenge which I'm gradually getting used to. I love the look of them but you really have to re-think your normal decorating techniques. I've had to hang a lot less pictures and keep colours to a white palette to counteract the amount of brown wood everywhere. You can't help but go rustic in style with all that wood so I've tried to balance that with French pieces of faded glamour adding as much glass as I can to add an opposite texture. I've found that glass objects not only reflect light but also add a balancing surface. 

I tend to think of balance in the home in terms of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. I studied Feng Shui a fair bit in the 90's and really think it speaks a lot of sense in terms of energy and balance. For instance, it's not good to decorate your bathroom with a Sea/Water theme because there's already a lot of water in that room. Instead add plants and greenery (some plants thrive on the steam), botanical prints will bring an earth element to all that water.

If you have a lot of wood then add glass items (as I have done), if you have a lot of brick add fabrics in curtains and textured cushions. This is all about the feel of the space. 

When the Amara IBA's first launched in 2014 I was drawn to it because the wonderful Jeska of 'Lobster and Swan' was a winner and her style is exceptional and very inspirational to me, to see someone working with reclaimed materials and a lifestyle with an ethos. By the following year I had already been spotted by paint company Annie Sloan who asked me to showcase the colours in her range and I had become her very first Painter in Residence. My first nominations at the Amara Interior Awards was in Colour Inspiration as at that time I had the style of property that needed a personality adding to it with colours and textures. The house was characterless and the addition of the right colours made it a much more interesting space. 

Over the years I've been in a few different categories of the awards, but finally I've found the one that fits me as during the last five years I've been concentrating more on my photography. I've upgraded my cameras several times to find the one that does what I need it to - shoot in low light. I never want to use lighting and I don't have a flash, but I do want to be able to take photos using a low natural window light and approach photography from the same viewpoint as the old masters of oil paintings, the Dutch ones particularly who were fascinated with painting the light from windows and how it falls onto surfaces. 

This aesthetic also transpires to interior spaces. When I stayed and photographed at the Welsh House for Reclaim magazine the light from the windows is key to the atmosphere of the cottage and so while electric light and interesting lampshades are imperative to an interior scheme, so is working with the natural light that you've been given. 

Not all looks work in all properties, it's very important to decorate for the space that you have and be flexible in your approach and I often find that you need to live somewhere for a year to really work out how to decorate and use the rooms you have. With old properties it's too much to keep it all in the time period of the building, (hey my house wouldn't have had bathrooms or electricity!) So you need to feel your way with what works and keep a balance. Old houses with low ceilings also make it very difficult to hang lighting so you need to be inventive. 

The wood panelling behind the fireplace was a new addition to the sitting room by previous owners but it was yet another different coloured wood to all the other wood in the room, so I painted it in two colours and added a big scaffolding plank shelf. By taking away the natural wood colour of the panelling it broke up the wood in the ceiling and floor as well as providing a contained area to style.

For the dark background photos where I really just want the light to do the talking,I don't have any flat clear walls so I just pin a black linen tablecloth to the front of my big French cupboard in the lounge, this helps to focus on the objects in the frame and working in aperture mode, I view with the touch screen on my Canon 5D Mkiv and shoot on very slow speed with the camera on a tripod. 

Dark walls work in the same way, they are perfect at showcasing interesting objects and decorators pieces, however, you must consider the size of windows and amount of natural light if you are going to brave the black and please don't forget what a nightmare it is to paint over when you want to change it. Rooms with high ceilings and big windows look amazing with dark deep rich colours on the walls and I often think of these colours as being like velvet to balance other areas of glass, brick or tiles. 

In the kitchen I shoot against the ancient wooden doors and brickwork while placing the table by the window. I've usually got something decorating the kitchen table and this week, well you've guessed it, it's pumpkins in all their different shapes and forms. If they are still in good condition in a few weeks they will probably go outside the front door for Halloween. I keep my fruit and veg on display in the kitchen and the addition of greenery is another way to break up the earth tones. 

Photography for me is a way to see the world through different eyes, it makes you focus, see the small stuff, notice what's in the background, place objects in a pleasing manner, create scenes and looks and most of all, shines a light on interior designs. I recently visited the home of a fantastic interior designer and I just wanted to get my camera out as I was seeing great shots everywhere.  Her use of lighting was incredible and her ceilings were high enough to take big oversized shades, I was well jealous. I may have to do a few shots of her house to show you how she has cleverly bought mid-century furniture for a Tudor property and how that balance just works. My bench mark of how much I love a house is whether I want to get my camera out, beautiful spaces make me excited - It's all about the balance of texture. 

So now, please let me thank you again for all the votes, particularly the huge turn out of my husbands facebook friends after he finally got round to telling them about my blog! (it took him long enough).

I have to admit that I don't look at a lot of other blogs and not because I don't like them but these days I'm afraid to be influenced by others content and style, as you can see, I'm not a follower of trends. There are more and more great ones starting every year and then there's the ones by friends who I've met during this blogging life that I just adore like Tamsyn Morgan's Villa On Mount Pleasant, Emma Harris's A Quiet Style, Jeska Hearnes Lobster and Swan, Suzi Grant's Alternative Ageing, all of whom produce exceptional content that I'm in awe of. 

Here I'm just trying to share information that others might find useful about all aspects of life, I try to keep it casual in approach and always brutally honest. It's hard not to feel vulnerable about sharing personal stuff but since I start to talk honestly about what's been happening this last year I've had so many messages from people in similar situations who have just been  thankful to hear that someone else has been going through it. 

Since my last post I have been flooded with personal messages from people who in their darkest hours have had no support from their own families and just thanked me for highlighting this. Many people have said it made them address how they communicate and kicked them into visiting sick friends and neighbours. Some have written to ask me how to speak to a friend with cancer, others have just started chemo and had questions about that. So my leap into the unknown of sharing has at least made some difference and I guess that's all I can expect at the end of the day. 

To be recognised whether by it's individuals or by the people at Amara IBA's - it's all amazing. To read more about the Amara Awards go to www.amara.com/content/interior-blog-awards 

I will of course let you know how I get on.  Coming soon I'm talking to Suzi Grant about nutrition for thinning hair. 

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