I've been a bit quiet in the last 2 weeks.
To be honest, I didn't have much to say and didn't feel great. And if I share something with you, I'd like it to be real and not something super upbeat and positive while, actually, the only thing I'd rather do, is hiding somewhere in silence.
But ready or not, I'm back. Boys are in school again after half term and I have lots of lovely projects to work on. So, here I am, on this grey and wet Monday.
Many of you have asked about my house renovation. How long it did actually take and if I have any tips to get through those very dusty months. As it is actually one year since we moved back to our house (5th February 2017 precisely), I think I should pay a tribute to this life changing project, to share with you the highs and the lows and to reflect on what I learnt from it.
I'm not very good at step by step lists, not my thing really. I'm just going to tell you a bit of our story, perhaps a bit randomly. But you will get what I'm trying to say and as always, if you have any questions, just give me a shout and I will tell you more.
Firstly, I wasn't looking for a project.
I had two small children and wanted a brand new house where I literally had to move in without doing anything. But the reality was that we couldn't find anything we liked and those immaculate properties, done up with someone else's taste, were either too expensive or without character. When eventually, after 2 years of looking, we found our little black door here in St Margaret's, we knew it was the right move but we had to commit to 1 year of building works. And being an architect myself, I found the challenge super exciting. And I still do, naively, at times ;-)
First day of building works - the white board is up!
Before you even start to think about a renovation, if you're in a relationship, make sure it's rock solid because it won't survive. But then, if you are looking for an excuse to ditch your partner, this is a great one. After a couple of months you can easily blame it on the stress.
You need a great team of builders. Which we were lucky to have, until they checked out of our house without completing the job (too busy with another house) - we still have lots of snagging to do for this reason. Don't worry, not all builders are like this. I liaise with plumbers, electricians, etc. for my job on a daily basis, and I have great teams around London, people who would want to see their work right until the end. So, don't worry, there are still great guys out there.
When we moved back, building works were still going strong! Builders were running late and we lived in two rooms for about 3 months. This was the hardest thing, with two children. But it's incredibile how quickly you adapt to these situations. You basically need to plan every single day and weekend, be out and about all the time because the house is so dusty you can't do anything. It's so tiring. You will cry a lot and will question yourself daily.
This was our kitchen a year ago:
And this is where I'm sitting right now:
This door was used by the builders
to hang their clothes:
You will also drink much more. Water of course, but I mean wine, really. You dine out a lot because your temporary kitchen is pretty sad, dark and cold. So, often, you end up at your local Italian restaurant and while the kids have their pasta and pollo, mummy orders a large glass of red. Everyone wins.
The good thing about those days was using the dry cleaners for all our washing. So twice a week, I would drop off our wash and collect it the same day - dry and ironed. Bliss.
But back to the design and planning, if you're embarking on a big renovation project, I would suggest you to draw. Even if you're not very good at it, just get that piece of paper and a pencil, and start thinking about the space, your needs and how you live as a family. Pinterest is great of course, but while giving people visual solutions straight away, it gives also the perception that everything should be a certain way. Some clients have said: "Love this idea but I've never seen it on Pinterest!?" and I'd say, thank God for that!!
So just talk to your partners, children and whoever is sharing the house with you. It's important that you design a space that works around you and not something that just looks good but not practical. Then you need to merge practicality and beauty and make them work. This is often the hardest bit. But back to the drawing bit, just put all your ideas on paper, we do everything on our screens these days, but to me the best way to start a conversation with myself, is to grab my pencil and start writing and sketching. Then, when you know what you're looking for, start your product search and see what brands suit your lifestyle.
Please don't buy in bulk. The idea of finishing your house as quickly as possible is very tempting. But buying for the sake of getting the basics, it will result in masses of mdf furniture that wouldn't even be good to build a bonfire.
Take your time to search and go to antique shops. Mix and match old and new. This is what I love. I'm super keen on technology and modern pieces but only if mixed with old furniture that have a story behind them. If something is coming to my home, it must have a real meaning.
I will never forget a house, a beautiful country manor. My attention went to this collection of... ducks. Not real ones, don't worry, but in ceramic, wood, steel, etc. So I asked the owners how long it took them to collect all those ducks. They told me that they purchased them all at once at an auction. Yep, and they weren't cheap either. They bought someone else's collection.
And that's the attitude that most people have towards decorating their homes. They want that Pinterest look translated into their projects straight away. They want the trends. And they want it all and fast.
Personally, I couldn't think of anything more sad.
It's easy to sit in front of our computers and shop for the whole house in one day. Done and dusted. But to me that spoils the adventure of finding those little precious things. I'd rather have one vase that brings me happiness and reminds me of a special day, instead of a collection of 15 coloured vases, bought all at once and carefully placed on a shelf in my kitchen.
Same for your walls. Wait and see what they tell you. I'm always battling with my husband because, unlike him, am a big fan of plain walls. I'd rather have less but good. And I like big frames. Basically, I'm after some drama. But this doesn't work for everyone and I totally get that. I've always liked a bit of drama in my life and I guess that shows in my home too. So, if you can, just get the biggest frame you can afford and same goes for rugs. And sofas. And I could carry on. For rings, necklaces, handbags, etc. The biggest and boldest, the better. Then you need less stuff around.
There is nothing more calming than an empty room, with beautiful painted walls, high ceiling and the biggest sofa you can get next to the biggest piece of art you can afford.
But again, this is me and you may love lots of furniture and a wall art with signs that remind you "hello gorgeous", which is also fine, as long as you do that because it makes you happy, and not because it's the trend.
Don't stress about your children, if you have any. They'll love it. My boys sometimes ask about the builders and say they miss them. I mean, miss them.
Something that kept me sane was also sport. I love my reformer pilates at Bootcamp Pilates in Richmond (I've been doing it regularly for over 3 years now). Mixed with a bit of running and crossfit. And not only during the renovation, but sport really is what saves me every day.
So, when you ask me about rules, to me, there are no rules. You can make everything work as long as it has a meaning to you.
And going back to our renovation days, I could actually write here forever and tell you how stressful it has been. But really, you know that. You just have to embrace the madness, invest in a good exfoliator and face mask (I've also discovered the Neom serum that you must try!) and learn that you're actually very lucky to be able to design your home step by step, seeing the process and being part of it. At that time, you will feel like you've been punished for something really bad you've done in your life. But try to see beyond.
So, draw, plan, search and chat with people. Ask for advice and make mistakes. You'll learn from them. Start hunting your local antique shops. Take risks and be bold. Don't follow trends and do what makes you happy. Stay positive, drink wine and coffee but do also lots of sport to compensate. Just think of the day, when the builders will be gone and you can sit on that sofa for the very first time.
A year on, I look back and feel very proud of what we have achieved. It's still work in progress and I love that. So, I raise a glass (or better a cup of coffee at this time) to my little precious family, to all those friends who have been there for me along the way (and literally gave me their house keys!!); to those Insta people who have followed my journey and continue to engage with my stories.
Happy first year to us!