“Where shall we go next?” – I remember hearing that from a bunch of carefree girls (we shall call them youths) at 3.14am outside my Amsterdam flat as I was desperately trying to get Mae, my daughter to latch through her relentless squawking.
It was a dark maternal moment; one that offered a stark breezy contrast to the life I had left behind and the one mewling in front of me. It was a sense of claustrophobia mixed with paranoia and an overwhelming sense that ‘this is it’ – this is how it’s going to be now I’ve hoofed a kid out.
The four walls I’d tended to with utmost care – subtext: pre-baby when time was abundant – pre-project procreation soon felt prison-like. Needless to say my Zara Home embellished abode didn’t feel very homely and my relationship with those bricks and mortar was on a par with Robbie leaving Take That; confusing and left us all feeling a bit lost.
Fast-forward three years with a move to London under our belts, we’ve finally found our happy place. Sure, it’s in a slightly stabby (‘up-and-coming’) part of East London but it’s ours and if you squint a little it could pass as ‘rather lovely’ – my mother’s words, not mine. Think Victorian terrace-meets-East-end-boozer with a hint of granny flat to it. All in all, it’s perfectly imperfect.
What changed? How did I wriggle free from the shackles of the restrictive homestead? Well, I think there’s a period of acceptance you need to undergo once you have a kid. Somewhere lingering beneath the mammoth sanitary pads and Medela breast pumps there’s a belief that you’ll still be ‘you’.
The reality was I believed I was defined by a couple of things: who I was with, what I was doing and where I was going. The person I’m with has remained a stalwart; an unwavering marital pillar and someone who has seen me crying, clutching a pineapple in Tesco with one solitary tear running down my face. The person I’m with hasn’t changed – quite the relief.
But what I’m doing (who knows? My Dad calls vlogging ‘flogging’) and the where I’m going have not only shifted, they’ve been left in a crumbled, dusty heap on the floor, barely decipherable to the human eye. It’s been like watching a building being demolished in slow-mo with no understanding why you’ve been left with a gaping space on the horizon.
But for every building that’s bulldozed to the ground, there’s room for something else to pop up. It might not be the structure you imagined, but it’s yours and for me, it’s been about throwing caution to the wind and decorating our pad with the gusto of a toddler discovering felt tips for the first time.
My first port of call was investing in some art. Having only just accepted club flyers Blu Tacked to the wall doesn’t count, I went all in. If you’ve taken a look at our blog, you’ll have seen us posing against Camille Walala’s brightly-hued walls in Old Street, so it was an obvious port of call to bring a splash of that immense colour into the homestead. I chose two of the same prints and separated them into the lounge and dining room to jazz things up a bit.
In keeping with Camille’s aesthetic, we went bold on the walls – moving away from greige (beige or grey hues) and painting with wild abandon – thanks to Dulux’s knowledgable creative director Marianne who we were lucky enough to work with. With her guiding hand and keen eye, we ended up painting our lounge a mixture of Dulux peacock blue and my Grandad’s favourite summer blazer – I couldn’t tell you the exact colour but it’s got gravitas.
Having someone at Dulux to visualize how your room will look definitely helps you take the leap from greige to deep blue. Seeing truly is believing here and the moodboards Marianne created for us helped us make the splash.
Instead of throwing cash at expensive soft furnishings, we whacked some masking tape on the stairs and created a ‘feature’ stairwell. It was a simple manoeuvre but one that gets folk talking the minute they step into our gaff. It’s just a case of Googling and you’ll find all kinds of cheap and cheerful things you can do to inject some character into your humble abode.
Perhaps the biggest interior triumph is the bathroom where we went for a rustic brown that my best mate has rebranded ‘aubergine’. Any paint colour that resembles a bulbous root vegetable has my vote. Contrasted with some Bath Company Victorian floor tiles and a free-standing bath, it’s a stellar mix of old and new, which seamlessly fits with the Victorian stabby vibe of our hood.
We’d gathered a few old pieces of furniture from my Grandma over the years and they’d definitely seen better times so we just sanded everything down and slapped on some white paint to jazz things up. (There are still scribbles from my sister when she was Mae’s age lurking under the kitchen table – I’ve made sure to keep those still visible.)
The biggest revelation was the repurposing of the seemingly naff old leather sofas and chairs that I grew up with in the 80s. My parents threatened that these colossal eye sores would be ours one day so kept them in storage, as my sister and I quietly willed the other to make a house purchase first.
But with a Donna Wilson cushion thrown into the mix, they have come back to life. The moment Mae stepped up on the same chair that I did when I was three – peering out of the window for my Dad to come home – was the moment. That was when I realised I’d built something much bigger than any night out could ever offer.
That was when I finally felt at home.
Room with a phew
Having recently finished our East London renovation, here’s some top tips for jazzing up your abode:
1) Make storage a feature. We invested in designer Marcel Wanders’ Toy Pig for Mae’s stash of Paw Patrol bits and mountain of Lego – everyone’s a winner. Toy Pig is like one of the family now.
2) Don’t fear the colour. Everyone’s instinctive reaction is to go for ‘greige’ walls but shy away from the norm with a two-tone bolder hue.
3) If you have a fireplace and aren’t going to use it, consider popping your TV in there. We had a custom-made box to pop it on and it’s neatly tucked away there without taking up precious room in the lounge.
4) Pick an artist. You don’t need to be an aficionado, but taking the time to research an artist that fits with the vibe of your home really adds that cool personal touch. We went for Camille Walala’s bold prints to lift the blue walls.
5) Invest in cushions. A stained, limp cushion will automatically bring a place down. It’s like the facial equivalent of putting make-up on in the dark – the eye will be drawn to the mess. Instead choose something durable like Donna Wilson’s wool cushions.
6) if you’re on a budget and want a pop of colour in your home, buy some school chairs (they come in adult and kid size) in any primary hue you wish. Bonus ball: they’re wipe clean, which is a godsend with kids.
7) Download the Dulux Visualizer app to see what the paint actually looks like on the walls – seeing truly is believing!
Got the blues
Marianne Shillingford, Dulux’s creative director offers up her reasons for going into the blue
Deep blue is the perfect colour for creating a peaceful grown up space within busy family environments, all it takes is a bit of bravery to try it out for yourself but I guarantee, this bit of bravery always pays off.
Blue is also the world’s favourite colour. It’s calming and tranquil when we choose to use it in our homes and if you use deep blue on the walls, it instantly creates a sense of the night drawing in and we begin to unwind and relax. For those moments when you can’t see the woods from the parental trees, this is your colour. Never fear going into the blue.
Published in Smallish Magazine