Since launching Around the Houses last year, I’ve been invited to lots of blogger events. However, all of them have been in London or elsewhere in the south of England, and taking time off from work to schlep it down from Edinburgh has not been feasible.
But recently an invite popped into my inbox which I simply couldn’t refuse: a blogger workshop with none other than Annie Sloan.
If you are into interiors at all (and I know you are!), you will know Annie as the creator of chalk paint. As I was to learn on the day, there’s a great deal more strings to Annie’s bow than that. But I’ll come to that.
Another draw was that some of the bloggers I’ve gotten to know online would be going too, and we hatched a plan to meet the evening before the workshop.
It turns out that Oxford, home of Annie’s studio, offices and factory (yes, she manufactures her own paint here in the UK) is harder to get to from Scotland than almost any other place in the UK. It’s not handy for an airport and trains are indirect and slow. However, I was committed by this stage, so I booked my train ticket and resolved to make effective use of the seven hour journey.
Here are the things I did not do during my train trip:
- write two blog posts,
- reply to twenty emails,
- catch up on a month’s worth of home admin, and
- organise my social calendar for the next three months.
Here are the things I did instead:
- spent around 20% of my salary on items that at the start of the journey I was unaware I needed,
- consumed an entire packet of Percy Pigs,
- liked approximately five hundred posts on Instagram
A productive day indeed.
The evening before
I arrived in Oxford to be met with the unexpected pleasures of a gloriously sunny afternoon and a filmset-perfect town centre. I wanted to linger but some serious blogger networking at the hotel awaited.
Check-in had shades of Fawlty Towers about it; at one stage it appeared that all six of us might be bunking down in a dorm. (From Fawlty Towers to Mallory Towers…) However, with that minor issue resolved, we set down to business (Prosecco) straight away.
How do you know you’re hanging out with a bunch of interiors bloggers?
First up: interrupting introductions for a quick flat lay of the tools of the trade (i-phones) is not considered odd or compulsive.
Next, despite the fact that after long journeys we were all ready for some refreshment, not a drop passed our lips until we boomeranged the clinking of our glasses.
In our taxi into town for a spot of dinner, for the first time that evening the banter stalled. Had we run out of chat already? Nope. It was just that we all were gawping out the window, momentarily silenced by the beauty of the period Oxford homes lining the road.
On arrival at the very stylish Quod, instead of immediately directing our attention to the wine list, we spend the first five minutes oohing and aahing in homage to the splendour of our surroundings.
The opportunity to chatter unashamedly at length about interiors without boring the pants off of anyone was a novel and liberating experience for me. It was also brilliant to get to know my blogger colleagues. While our blogs/interiors-related work were all very different, we discovered so much common ground in our families (2 Finns and 2 Bellas between us for starters!) as well as our creative pursuits. It was difficult to believe that most of us had just met for the first time.
Despite lots of bravado and hilarity in the Instagram build up, we were not downing cocktails and dancing on tables into the small hours. We were responsibly and professionally tucked up in bed by midnight. We were soooo going to be on our upcylcing game the next day.
The day did not get off to the most promising of starts when we realised that there are two Holiday Inns in Oxford and we had booked the one which was literally as far away from Annie’s premises as it possible to be without leaving the city. The drive there would mean no time for breakfast. We steeled ourselves for painting with rumbling tums and set off in convoy.
A very warm welcome awaited us, and hallelujah home baked banana bread and warm croissants.
Annie’s HQ is the location for her factory, the workshop and the office from which the Annie Sloan empire is run. But it’s so much more too. It’s a hub of creative energy and a showcase for Annie’s products and the seemingly endless ways they can be used to stunning effect.
It’s also an interior bloggers dream, presenting breath taking vignettes at every turn. Even the most mundane of worky necessities is a work of art here, from Annie’s calendar, hand drawn on a wall-to-wall chalkboard, to the toilet sign.
Things you might now know about Annie Sloan
As Annie talked us through the story of her brand, I learned
- Annie’s approach to mixing colours is different to most paint manufacturers. She uses her fine art background to create shades by adding other “clean” colours (without black) which means different colours of Annie Sloan paint can be mixed without the dirty effect you might get with other brands.
- Annie doesn’t sell paint just anywhere. She wants people to buy from sellers who understand her paint – what it’s about, why it’s special and how to use it. All of Annie’s retailers are specially schooled and as well as offering advice on purchases run workshops to inspire paint projects too.
- You can dye fabrics with Annie’s paint, from self colour, through a whole range of different effects. (There’s a definite DIY post to follow involving some of those.)
- Entirely unrelated to paint, but a fact too juicy not to share: Annie used to be in a successful punk band which was so cool, they actually turned down the chance to tour the USA with Pink Floyd because it would have ruined their street cred.
As well as a masterclass on the art of colour combining, we got our hands on Annie’s paint and her new gilding waxes to personalise our own cardboard pineapple.
My gilded pineapple will serve as a lovely memento of a fun day of learning, inspiration and laughs. But I took a great deal more away besides. I learned:
- Annie’s paint is special
- Annie actually is cooler than Pink Floyd
- There’s so much more to using paint in the home than slapping it on the wall or even shabby chic-style upcycling.
- Using Annie’s paint on fabrics is easy, fun and has potential to make beautiful unique pieces. (Watch this space as I test that out.)
- I need to spend more time with fellow interiors obsessives, people who might not roll their eyes as I launch into a discourse on the relative merits of shibori versus batik, while simultaneously checking Instagram updates.
Are you adventurous with paint around the home? What paint related projects have you tried?