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Call to the bar: Finding a good kitchen stool can make your head spin

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The breakfast bar, the island or, sometimes, the peninsula. Never mind what you call it, this kitchen feature has endured for decades in all manner of shapes and sizes.

As it happens, I’m installing one myself in a little house my wife and I are building in Wiltshire, and it’s proving difficult. Not the house, that is, but the breakfast bar.

The problem has nothing to do with working out how much overhang to have but finding the right sort of stools on which people can sit.

Convivial: The Wishbone Bar Stool, from Cheshire-based firm Where Saints Go, costs £199 each

Convivial: The Wishbone Bar Stool, from Cheshire-based firm Where Saints Go, costs £199 each

That means stools which are comfortable without spending a silly amount of money; stylish, but in keeping with the rest of the furniture and colour scheme.

This is usually where John Lewis comes in — and no one relies on this trusty store more than me — but its range of kitchen stools is lamentable.

Most of them look cheap but are expensive, except perhaps for the Philippe Starck for Kartell Masters Bar Chair (pictured in black), which has the advantage of being different and cleverly put together with a twirly back. 

But at £296 each you’re talking about close to £1,800 for six. Loaf also does attractive bar stools, which go by the name of Milk because they are ‘inspired by the sort of stool you’d perch on while slurping down a cold milkshake’. Perhaps.

Certainly, they have an American diner feel to them, with wipeable leather seats, soft linen backs and some studied detailing at the front. Crucially, the height can be adjusted. But at £325 per stool, your set of six will come to just under £2,000.

Sleek: Philippe Starck for Kartell Masters Bar Chair

Sleek: Philippe Starck for Kartell Masters Bar Chair

Eventually, my search alighted on a website of which I was not familiar: Where Saints Go. Based in Cheshire, this online-only company is the brainchild of Mark Wilman and his wife Tracey Hague, with a sales strap that reads: ‘Anything but ordinary.’

Its range comprises some 150 options from sexy, slim cocktail perches to sumptuous seats worthy of a long and comfortable evening of eating, drinking and chattering.

‘A lot of our stools are made in India and we go out there regularly to get new ideas… or, at least, we used to go out there a lot,’ says Tracey.

Lockdown has worked to the company’s advantage, with home owners expanding rather than selling.

‘When creating extra space, a new kitchen is often top of people’s list, with an island as a centrepiece, around which people can sit,’ says Tracey. ‘That seems to have happened a lot in the past two or three years, with demand for bar stools increasing in a big way.’

Tracey says a big mistake that’s frequently made is over height. Ideally, there should be 25 cm between the counter and the seat. Most kitchen counters are 90 cm high. Consequently, most of Tracey’s stools are 66 cm high although some are 75 cm.

One of Where Saints Go’s bestsellers is the Wishbone stool, which comes in a variety of colours and is made from ash wood, priced at £199. They have rounded backs that extend to the sides in such a way that you can rest your elbows on them.

The back is sufficiently high so you can lean back without fear of toppling over if you’ve had one too many margaritas.

If you want something more modern, then Wayfair’s Ahlers swivel bar stools, designed by Zipcode, will fit the bill, not least because they cost a reasonable £67.99. ‘With restrictions lifted, we are all on the lookout for ways to make our homes more guest-friendly,’ says Nadia McCowan Hill, Wayfair’s style adviser.

‘If you are running low on extra seating, invest in some statement bar stools, which will make a stylish first impression and can be easily tucked away when the time calls for dancing.’

Sticking with a modern look, Wayfair’s Carwell bar stool, conceived by Etta Avenue, comes in gold and silver. It may be a bit on the bling side for some tastes, and at £289.99 represents a big investment.

Bar stools are mainly bar chairs these days. The kitchen is the one room where people spend almost all their time, with TVs, comfortable seating and dining. Cooking is only a part of the room’s function.

‘The kitchen bar stool has to be more of a comfortable chair that is higher. So think of a normal dining chair, elongate the legs and you have the perfect kitchen ‘bar chair’, says Philippa Thorp, who heads up the Thorp Design company.

A trend is clearly under way. You can expect the choice to widen if this continues, with prices moving in an upward direction.

What your home really needs is a… Big plant 

Suddenly size matters in the house-plant style league: the large house plant is back in vogue after several seasons when a proliferation of smaller flora was all the rage, a trend promoted on Instagram.

This forest of small pots requires the constant ministration of its owner, or ‘plant parent’ (this term also started on Instagram).

Green space: A 1.2 metre monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) costs £109.99 at Waitrose Garden (waitrosegarden.com)

Green space: A 1.2 metre monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) costs £109.99 at Waitrose Garden (waitrosegarden.com)

Which is why your home needs the simple elegance of a single tall sansevieria (snake plant), or a lofty lustrous chamaedorea elegans (parlour palm). 

A 1.2 metre monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) costs £109.99 at Waitrose Garden (waitrosegarden.com). This tropical vegetation brings a 1970s vibe to any interior.

A calathea (prayer plant) also adds a hint of the exotic — Marks & Spencer will sell you one in a smart hessian pot for £60 (marksandspencer.com). At Patch, a Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) costs from £50 to £140, depending on size (patchplants.com).

ANNE ASHWORTH

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Teenager arrested after car driven through Co Down parade, injuring two

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A teenager has been arrested after two men suffered minor injuries when a car was driven through a band parade in Co Down.

A 16-year-old has been arrested over a number of alleged driving offences and suspected common assault.

Police said a black Seat Leon failed to stop for officers and drove into the parade in the Newry Street area of Rathfriland.

The incident was reported to police at around 8.40pm on Friday.

Video of the incident shows the car driving towards the group before it mounts the footpath.

People can be heard shouting at the car to stop but it left the area at speed.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district chief inspector Barney O’Connor said: “Last night, a black Seat Leon failed to stop, a number of times, for police who were on duty in connection with a band parade in Rathfriland.

“This vehicle then drove into the parade as it made its way up Newry Street.

“One man aged in his 40s and one man aged in his 30s received minor injuries following the incident.

“The male has been arrested on suspicion of six counts of dangerous driving, six counts for failing to stop for police, aggravated taking and driving away, disqualified driving, no insurance and three counts of failing to stop and report and remain at an injury road traffic collision.

“He was also arrested on suspicion of two counts of common assault and other related offences. He remains in police custody at this time.

‘Utterly reckless’

“At this stage, we are not investigating a sectarian hate crime motive in relation to this incident.

“Our officers are continuing to robustly investigate the circumstances of this incident.

“Officers have already spoken to a number of those present and I know this has been alarming for all those involved.

“I would like to thank those in the community and those involved from the band, who have already come forward, for their cooperation and assistance.”

Alliance councillor for the area Eoin Tennyson said: “Shocking reports from Rathfriland that a car drove through two marching bands last night.

“Utterly reckless and disgraceful behaviour. Thankfully no-one was seriously injured or killed.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “There is palpable anger across the unionist community following last night’s outrageous incident in Rathfriland in which a car was driven into two bands.

“This is entirely understandable as we could very well be waking up to news of many people injured or worse.

“The shocking behaviour captured on film needs to result in a robust PSNI investigation and arrests.” – PA

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Floating assets: Static homes on water are the new des res

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Living on a narrowboat or barge might be a dream for many, but the practicalities can be daunting; filling up water tanks with a hose, having to take the boat off to pump out and running out of electricity.

But it’s now possible to buy a modern static houseboat, which is just like living in a flat on water with the advantage of a beautiful location and being cheaper than a home on dry land.

Caroline Clark, 55, bought a luxurious 45 ft by 16 ft floating home from Prestige for £230,000 and is waiting to move in next month. 

Tranquil: Caroline Clark and her dog Aggie on their Prestige floating home at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford

Tranquil: Caroline Clark and her dog Aggie on their Prestige floating home at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford

After she sold her bungalow in a village just outside Bedford, she put the deposit down and worked out with Prestige exactly what she wanted for her home: a study rather than a second bedroom, and a separate bathroom and walk-in wardrobe instead of an en suite.

Since April, she’s been living in the showhome at Priory Marina on the Great River Ouse, just outside Bedford, where there will eventually be 12 houseboats.

Caroline had frequently walked round the back of the marina and seen all the boats moored there and thought they seemed appealing. 

So, when idly looking for properties for sale, she saw the floating homes advertised on Rightmove and couldn’t believe it.

‘I sent the link to my parents saying I’m tempted by this, then went to see it and immediately fell in love with the whole place.

I remembered going to Amsterdam in the past and seeing the houseboats on the canal and thinking what a fantastic way of life, but never imagining that I could live like this in Bedford,’ she says.

She hadn’t thought about living on a boat before as she didn’t want all the hassle involved and the potential cold in winter.

‘But these houseboats give you all the benefit of a boat, in fact with much better views out of the French doors, as well as the luxury of central heating, sewerage and running water from the mains.

‘As I live on my own, apart from with Aggie my rescue dog, those things are important.’

Caroline says she can walk into the centre of town in 20 minutes, swim in the river and she’s bought a big Canadian kayak.

‘You start doing different activities when you live on the water. It’s very sociable here, too. So far, there are four other boats on my pontoon and the owners are all in their 50s/60s.’

But it’s not that cheap to live on.

‘You can’t get a mortgage and insurance is quite expensive as if anything goes wrong, you have to pay for salvage. 

‘I pay about £900 a year and £3,000 in annual mooring fees, which includes water and sewage,’ she says. ‘But it would take a lot to tempt me away from here. 

‘There is a lovely tranquillity about this place and you feel connected to nature. It’s like a little haven in Bedford, tucked away, and it feels magical to be part of it.’

Nine similar floating homes are also available at Sawley Marina in Nottinghamshire, priced from £179,000, prestigehomeseeker.com.

Richard Homewood, of River Pod Houseboats, has been making bespoke floating homes for more than four years. 

Based in Kent, he delivers them on a low loader lorry all over the UK and these environmentally friendly houseboats have been bought by people as young as 22 and as old as 80, who all want a slightly different way of life on the water.

‘All our boats are on mains water and plug into mains electric. Sewage can either be pumped out every six months, plumbed into mains drainage or if someone chooses to have a Klargester system installed, the dirty water is treated and sanitised before going back into a river or into a holding tank. Then it only needs to be pumped out every one to two years,’ says Richard.

A couple of these homes have been bought for use as an Airbnb.

Tara and Quentin Branson, who are commercial builders, live near Allington Lock on the River Medway, Kent.

They bought The Lady Florence, which is moored alongside their land for £100,000 and have been surprised how much interest they have had in it.

‘We’ve used it a bit, it’s so beautiful on the river and a step away from our hectic life, but it’s fully booked through August.’

And they are so pleased with their investment, they are thinking of buying another. One, two and three-bedroom River Pods start from £68,000, theriverpodcompany.co.uk.

One problem to be aware of when buying a houseboat is finding a suitable mooring, which can be difficult. So, if you can find a houseboat that already has a ‘home’, then that should really float your boat.

On the market… and on the water

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‘They are everywhere in this area’

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We should see plenty of action in an hour, Dr John Dunbar says assuredly via email, excited at the prospect. As a venom expert, many nights are spent combing the walls and railings of Dublin housing estates for Ireland’s highly-poisonous false widow spider.

Alone in the dark, armed with extended tweezers and a headlamp, he carefully places each one inside long plastic tubes as the residents sleep inside, blissfully unaware.

On a chilly evening thousands of such spiders are scattered just out of sight along Beech Park, a long quiet suburban road in Lucan lined with detached homes and webbed hedges. The noble false widow – or steatoda nobilis – first recorded in Ireland in 1999 is far more common than most people realise and its numbers are increasing alarmingly.

Within two minutes Dr Dunbar is poking at a web string. He has spotted two long, thin protruding legs, inconspicuous to the passerby. It is the first trophy of 94 that night.

Although he has handled thousands, Dr Dunbar has never been bitten. Twenty bites have been recorded in Ireland, he declares, and the bite is one to be avoided.

Hospitalised

“In some cases [bite symptoms] are so mild they just observed it for a couple of hours and it was pretty much gone,” Dr Dunbar explains. “Then we’ve had other cases where people have been hospitalised.”

In some cases victims have experienced severe bacterial infections, debilitating pain and body tremors.

Steatoda nobilis is compared to the notorious black widow for a number of reasons including notable similarities in appearance, genetics and toxins. It is known as the “false widow” because in regions where they co-exist it can be difficult to tell them apart.

Smaller than the native house spider, chocolate brown with a large bulbous abdomen and an intricate cream pattern sometimes resembling a skull, the false widow is easy to identify.

Five or six years ago researchers would have had to look hard for one. Today, a single hunter can expect to bag between 100 and 150 in a few hours in any suburban estate.

Thought to have originated in the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and the Canaries, it arrived in the United Kingdom and Europe on banana boats. Throughout the 20th century it established thriving populations throughout England and Wales, and later colonised parts of western Europe, California, Chile and the Middle East.

Although found in Co Wicklow a little more than two decades ago, little was known about its presence here until more recently. A 2017 Royal Irish Academy study confirmed the species in at least 16 counties, but most significantly in the greater Dublin area where it is abundant in urban buildings and around street furniture.

As Dr Dunbar walks slowly from suburban home to home, he identifies and scoops up the spiders from virtually every single driveway pillar he examines. His head torch illuminates the undersides of wall ledges, shrubs, gates, guttering, the back of ESB boxes. They are everywhere. After just a short while it seems other native species are relatively difficult to come by.

“[Their urban habitats] bring them in conflict with humans,” Dr Dunbar explains. “Usually the spider accidentally gets entangled in clothing or bed sheets and when they’re unintentionally pinned or squashed the spider actually bites, purely in defence. They’re actually quite a docile species.

Potent venom

“But they do have a venom that’s a little bit more potent than what we’re used to. It’s very similar to the venom of black widows, not quite as potent, but still kind of getting there.”

The risk posed are similar to ones posed by bees and wasps. Each spider can give about half of one microlitre of venom, about one thousandth of a millilitre. On his regular hunts Dr Dunbar tells the gardaí he will be prowling. The glow from his headlamp and his intricate inspection of neighbourhood walls are common, as are encounters with neighbours.

Just as he is plucking a sample with his extended tweezers, a resident approaches with a fair idea of what is going on but curious all the same. “They are obviously everywhere in this area,” Colm Gallagher says resignedly. “I know what the implications are; they have venom and whatever else. But they’re not terribly dangerous.”

They do go inside houses, but not usually. Whether for the curious resident, the arachnophobe or the scientist, there is still a lot to learn about these creatures and a race to learn it.

“They are here to stay, there is no way we’re going to get rid of them,” he says. “But we really need to monitor them while we can over the next years and see what happens. Now science must tell us what we are dealing with,” he said.

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