Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Elaine shows us around her kitchen

I love interior design. I have no training in it, bar an 8 week course I took many years ago - which, to be frank, was not at all what I was expecting. I was imagining making up gorgeous swatches and mood boards. Erm, no. I had to learn how to use a T-square and make curtains. Pfff.

My nightmare is a minimalist look. To me, a minimalist room looks empty and a little bit sad. I don't appreciate the clean lines and all that. I want to fill every corner and surface with things that make me happy. Most importantly, things in my house reflect us and who we are, where we come from and where we've been. I don't trust people who don't display family photographs. Serial killers.

The house my family lives in now is on the edge of minimalism, interior design wise. I am not happy about this, but am trying to come to terms with it and calm down about it all. Our last house was Victorian, had all the original wood panelling, parquet flooring, mouldings and masses of charm and character. This house is a classic American Colonial (with columns at the back, SHUDDER). We gutted most of the ground floor and changed a lot of the layout upstairs. Now it just looks Colonial from the outside. My husband, who loves interior design as much as me, won the minimalist argument. I was preoccupied with a 5 month old baby and dropped the ball. Never again. Next time, I shall be there with the contractors, hard hat and steel capped boots on, even if I have a baby strapped to my chest and only 3 hours sleep in my body.

Anyhow, the house is lovely. Large, spacious and airy. My husband did a magnificent job. Happily we have a similar taste for most things design-related. Sometimes though, I wish he were a man with zero interest in design. We've had arguments about furniture upholstery, coffee machine placement, how much a curtain puddles, even cushion cover colours (??!!). I've always been someone who wakes up at 4am with an idea about how to redesign my sitting room - and I used to do it right there and then. On a mission. Obsessed. Now, I have to confer with my other half and actually care about his opinion. Quite grating that is.

Our kitchen is wonderful, I love it. We designed it with daily cooking and baking in mind - a proper working kitchen. The placement of the fridge, sink, sockets etc was really important, as was the placement of which cupboards would house what. I know, anally retentive, right? We chose a BlueStar stove top. That's some seriously powerful shit. I know this primarily because of lighting a cigarette off a burner and coming out of that with half an eyebrow gone. Yes, that nonsense is supposed to stop when you're a teenager, but I had no matches or lighter. The hood is so powerful that I can smoke right underneath it and all the smoke gets sucked away instantaneously. Perfect for when it's too cold to smoke outside :-). PS Smoking is very bad for you, please do not do it. 

The main attraction so to speak is the Calacatta marble island in the middle of the kitchen. That was a labour of love - for my husband. At this point, I was way too into dressing up my boy in lovely clothes to give a monkeys. It involved him making lots of visits out to the suburbs to find large enough, matching pieces of marble. It was a lot harder than it sounds. My hubby, ever the committed (read: anally retentive) amateur designer, stuck with it and we were rewarded with a stunning island. For the first few days, I'd lie on it and pretend I was in a hammam in Istanbul. 

One wish list item I had (okay, it was a demand) was a double oven. I do a lot of baking, so it was a real pain to only have one oven. We chose a Wolf double oven - one atop another rather than side by side because of space. Unlike what I'd always had before, the oven isn't underneath the stove. That took a bit of getting used to. The bending down with a really heavy and full tray only to find a drawer full of pans. Where the f is the oven? 

Rather than have sockets ruin the island or be dotted around the worktops, we had 12 sockets built into the oversized hood, so when nothing is plugged in, they're invisible. So well disguised in fact that it took us over a week to discover them. We would plug in appliances on the floor in the hallway - faintly embarrassing when we had guests over. 

The tap is an industrial design - a regular tap plus a stretchy arm one that most restaurants have, so I can be all Heston Blumenthal when the moment takes me and "spray" my vegetables. Ahem. We also installed what's called a pasta tap on the wall behind and over the stove - so one can fill up large saucepans on the stove rather than hulking them over from the sink. A laziness tap is what it should be renamed. If you get one, make sure it has a master off-knob - quite handy when one has a toddler that climbs up, turns on the tap and fills the entire stove top and burners with water. 

The lighting is recessed. Some are regular halogen recessed lights in the ceiling. Others are halogen spotlights set into a trench cut into the ceiling. Saw it in a magazine and asked the contractor to give it a shot. Happily we liked it, or we'd have had a long hole in the ceiling. We had the best architects and contractors; they really took care and didn't flinch at all (not outwardly anyway) when my husband changed his mind about things after they'd been done. (Don't get me started on the floor colour that was done by HAND by ONE man. The entire house. On his hands and knees he was with a cloth and pots full of customised stain. The day before we were to move in, a certain person decided the floor colour was hideous and needed to be redone. That poor floor man had to remove all the stain and redo it. I almost wept for him.) 

One important factor in the design of the kitchen was to have lots of storage space. What comes with that is a lot of surface space. What doesn't come with a lot of surface space is minimalism. Not for me anyway. I've managed to reign in my obsession with surface-covering, everywhere except the kitchen. I have filled the island and other worktops with so many "cositas" and flowers that when I need to roll out pastry, I am confined to a space of 6 inches by 6 inches. My husband cannot understand this. I tell him it's because I'm British and we like our small spaces. 

The cabinets are very similar to ones from Ikea. Sadly the Ikea ones weren't the right dimensions. We don't have handles on most of the doors, they're push/magnetic - note to those with small children...babyproofing gets hard without handles. However, I found great ones on Amazon. See photo of what happens sans babyproofing...oh and you get to see the pull out drawers inside, bonus shot. I love these, it saves on reaching to the back and not knowing exactly what your hand is going to land on. The drawers (we have 24 in the kitchen) have very simple handles. Nothing fancy or expensive. 

The fridge. I desperately wanted a bright yellow Smeg. Can you believe they only manufacture them for Europe?! After I recovered from my depression at not being able to have the fridge of my dreams, we decided on an extra wide, 48 inch, Sub-Zero. It's the double door set up - freezer on left, fridge on right. No under the counter fridge - they call that a European refrigerator, cheeky sods - unless it's for booze.  

It's a kitchen with lots of sunlight, cookery books, appliances - and my most special area, a wall covered in my toddler boy's paintings. It's a happy room that's almost always got something going on in it. A cat or dog sleeping somewhere, the fish (still alive) pootling about his fish hotel, my son scooting about on his toy bicycle but more likely chasing an animal with helmet on head and stick in hand, shrieking... The only time it's quiet in there is when everyone is sleeping. 

It's not finished yet - later this year we'll be replacing the bay window at the back with a rather fun and modern design. If Nat decides I've not bored her readers to death, perhaps I'll be invited back to let you know about that project ;-)

The main photo shows the kitchen in almost its entirety. The floors were stained a custom colour and so far have held up well. Note - get them sealed or the food remnants will find a new home inbetween each and every sodding plank of wood... 

Disclaimer - this photo was taken almost 2 years ago, so it's very spartan looking. It's basically the same today, just with a deep yellow backsplash (no tiles) and generally messier (read: child friendly, sob). 

Elaine x

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Street Style Sunday

Yesterday we went to Whitstable and although I've travelled quite a bit around the world I haven't seen that much of England. I was certainly really impressed with Whitstable, not far out of London, this seaside town boasts lots of little independent shops everywhere which is a rare treat for us londoners. And I can't walk past a second hand store without having a little perusal, lucky for me (not so much my family) they are in abundance in Whitstable. 

Perfect weather for wind sailing.

So this was my outfit for the day. I was promised a nice warm day by the weather reporters, but it was bloody cold, so it wasn't the most practical outfit.

This week we were dog sitting this little cutie pie - Pedro. And we are currently in negotiations trying to persuade the hubby that we need a dog in our lives. Wish us luck!

A couple of weeks ago I asked my twitter followers which skinny jeans were their favourite. And someone recommended Vero Moda jeans. These jeans are  from Noisy May at Vero Moda and I have to say I absolutely love them. So you really should check them out, I literally live in these jeans. 

The top I bought for an upcoming holiday, but if I only wore it on holiday I would only wear it one or two weeks of the year. So here I am making the most of my purchase and feeling a little bit like a super hero with my cape. 

Denim jacket - H&M
Top - Topshop
Jeans -Noisy May at Vero Moda
Necklace - Banana Republic

Get involved and link up with us this week, you can link an adult's outfit post or a kid's one. I will comment on everyone who links up and you'll get some other comments from other people who links up too.

The Rules -

1. Add the link to a specific outfit post, not your main blog page.
2. Grab a button and add it to your post (our text link is also fine).
3. Comment on this post and at least one other post...the whole point is to visit each other.

Link up your own street style posts and we'll share our favourite ones next week, with a link to your blog. 

Instagram: If you'd like to get involved on instagram tag us in your pic with #streetstylesunday in the comments. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

The New Me - A Pregnant Yogi

For all my friends that know me well, they will testify that I face exercise the same way I obsess over faddy diets (first with furious determination and then a week later it is forgotten about), and I can barely stretch to touch my toes.  That’s why it might come as a bit of a surprise that I have taken up pregnancy yoga, and that I LOVE it.   Granted, I have only been a few weeks since I was given the go-ahead following my first scan, but I am genuinely taken with the class and I have every good intention of continuing right up until my baby’s birth.

The class is friendly, unpretentious and you don’t need any previous yoga experience, just a bump that is 12 weeks old or beyond.  The focus is on breathing, meditation and movement, and ultimately how all these things can help to give you the best possible pregnancy (alleviating that troublesome back pain, swollen feet, fingers and toes) and birth experience.

Having been through an uncomplicated, but long and painful birth first time round with Coco, you would forgive me for thinking that there is no way a few breathing techniques will help me get through labour again.  However, on the contrary, the class is helping me believe that this time round I have the power to stay calm and in control, and I genuinely believe that what I learn in the class will help me achieve this.  I did do some yoga when pregnant with Coco, but in my usual fashion, I didn’t stick it out until the end and I often found it difficult to concentrate and really commit what was being recommended to memory.  After all, on most good days, I can barely remember my own address, let alone what breathing exercises to use when whilst trying to push something the size of a melon through a gap the size of a lemon.  I was therefore delighted to learn that the classes include ‘birthing rehearsals’ which clearly explain what techniques should be used when during labour to give as much relief as possible.  We will even be given a take-away sheet to read through at home, which doesn’t sound groundbreaking, but could be very handy to read through and practice during those last few anxious days at home.

The Air-Yoga Studio in South Woodford

Our lovely teacher Kat King does recommend hypno-birthing and says that yoga works particularly well alongside this.  However there is no need to go down this path if it’s not for you (there is no way I could ever be capable of turning off my mental to-do list!) and Kat clearly says that yoga will work for you throughout your pregnancy and birth however you chose to birth your baby, whether it be naturally or via caesarean. 

At the end of the day, even if I end up using absolutely nothing from the class during my next labour, I will still love my yoga class.  When you’re unable to go to the loo without having a small person wrapped round your ankles trying to unravel the toilet roll, having one blissful hour per week to yourself to have a good old stretch and connect with your baby is a real treat and I’d recommend it to everyone.

You can find details of Kat’s classes on her website….

The class I attend is at Air-Yoga Studio in South Woodford and runs on Tuesday evenings at 6.45.  Individual classes are priced at £12 but discounts are available when buying a group of five or ten classes in advance.  

For more information please visit…

Hope to see you there!

Gemma x

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Flamingos forever

You've always wanted one (even if you didn't know it) and now you can get your mitts on that flamingo garden ornament you've always dreamt of. I'm not sure where this recent fascination with flamingos has come from, but they are everywhere. The first flamingo I remember coveting for the home was a Cole & Son wallpaper a couple of years that is now so famous, but was too expensive for my purse. So maybe we have Cole & Son to thank for this recent feathered trend gathering speed.

Debenhams have recently collaborated with interior designer Abigail Ahern, known for her quirky, witty and eclectic taste to bring us an affordable yet dare I say it 'trendy' homeware range reminiscent of the slightly costlier Graham and Greene stuff. And of course Flamingos feature shown here in this brightly coloured cushion perfect for adding a colour injection. 

Or how about this brilliant lampshade to perk up an otherwise dull lamp stand. 

Clothes haven't escaped the Flamingo effect either, and this dress from Topshop is a tropical  delight. 

If you don't fancy donning your home or your body with this stand-on-one-leg-for-some-unknown-reason bird, but love Flamingos, then why not treat yourself to this fab wallet.  

Love or loathe Flamingos? Will you be making a pink feathered purchase? 

Nat x

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Introducing Elaine

Let me introduce Elaine, an ex-pat Brit living in Washington DC America, a married mum to her nearly 3 year old son. She will start writing a weekly post for Style Me Sunday. As you'll see she's great with words and has a passion for interior design and cooking so will hopefully add a much needed new dimension to Style Me Sunday. 

Here's her introduction post, hope you like it, and if you do please show some love with your comments, likes, shares etc.

Elaine's next post will be about interior design and how they did their amazing kitchen.


What do you think when you hear or see the words "Washington, DC"? Do you think Barack Obama? Capital of the USA? Land of the Free? Before I moved here 12 years ago, I never paid any heed to any place in the US. Sure, I watched the news but to be honest, I'd grown up with media telling me that Americans were loud, brash, uncultured and wore fanny packs with white trainers. Therefore, why would I want to visit, let alone live here? Long story short - a romance with an American that lasted about as long as my jetlag when I arrived. In sum, I stayed after the fallout and am still here almost 13 years later.

In my first few years of being here, all the stereotypes mentioned above, completely fell away. I made some lifelong friends who I've trusted with my sanity and I know they're keepers forever more. What also fell away were my preconceived notions that Britain and the US are similar culturally. I grew up watching Dallas and Dynasty. I knew America. How wrong I was. Winnie Churchill wasn't far off when he said that Britain and the US were "two nations divided by a common language". Even after all these years here, I still have to "translate" a fair bit. 

There's the pronunciation thing: Water becomes wahdder; butter becomes bahddah. There are spelling changes: Aluminium is aluminum; paediatrician becomes pediatrician... Then there are some words that aren't used at all over here: Trousers, trolley, football, knickers, trainers, tap, dustbin, rubbish... The lists are endless... and on a day when I'm overly tired or in a real rush, it gets more than frustrating. The more het up I get, the stronger my British accent gets...and well it's all a bit of vicious circle really.

My European friends love to party (within reason, most of the time), eat rich and sometimes downright unhealthy foods, love a glass or three of booze and generally don't take themselves seriously at all. They also do the self-deprecation thing brilliantly. My American friends love convenience - the quicker the better, living healthily, yoga, running and loving oneself in a pleasantly spiritual way. It's not that the euro pals are reckless or that the americans are puritanical and can't have fun, it's just very different. I tell myself I get to be in the best of both worlds. 

Hand on heart though, I'll never fully be "at home" in the USA. I miss Britain. Sometimes I miss it so deeply that I can't stand it. The small things - a newsagent that sells milk, cigarettes, sweets and newspapers on every corner. I miss British humour and have to sate myself with watching Graham Norton repeats. Self-deprecation and taking the piss out of someone *even though it's someone one cares for* is not welcomed over here. I stopped self-deprecating when a few girls tried to do an intervention on my "self hatred". Oh, dear god. I also miss the telly adverts (they're more edgy and clever than the US ones), the news (Trevor McDonald in particular for some very odd reason), hearing the Scots, English, Welsh and Irish accents. I even miss Waitrose for god's sake. I cannot find decent butter or caster sugar here for love nor money. When I'm around other Brits, all my repressed Brit humour, self deprecation and piss-taking literally explode out of hiding. When I'm in Waitrose, I go utterly bonkers. Duck fat? Yes please. Heston Blumental ready-made suppers for one? Hell yes. I am like a child in the world's most amazing sweet shop. Oh, it's "candy store" here. I am almost weeping writing that. 

Last time I was home (Great Malvern, Worcestershire), I visited three sweet shops. Just because I could. I am struggling to recall a time when I was happier than walking out with that little white paper bag full of toffee bonbons. Three little bags actually. Three different shops. In one day. 

Most of all, I miss being able to pop over to see my sister and her family; to have supper at my parents' house; to spend weekends with my brother and his family, generally being dickheads together and crying with laughter. We did that whole selfie with sellotape thing YEARS ago!

My son was born in DC. He turns 3 in a few weeks, and is now talking - Spanish with his father and English with me. He has an american accent because of school. I endlessly repeat WARTAAAH as I cannot bear to hear him say wahdderrr. I know, call me shallow. I drill shopping TROLLEY, rubbish BIN and TROUSERS, pants are your underwear! into him all the time. I change the words of the nursery rhymes back to the PROPER version... It's the wheels on the bus go round and round ALL DAY LONG, not all through the town. Heresy! As my husband says (rather smugly I might add) "I will never have to hear him say words differently to me as he only speaks Spanish with me". Git. My child will end up with an accent like Lloyd Grossman. Fack. 

Why do I care that my son, born and being raised in the US has an american accent, you might ask, aghast at my idiocy? Well, being selfish and honest - I want my son to have and experience some of who I am. I am a proud Brit with a maroon passport cover that has a crown on it. I will never give it up. My son has a blue passport cover with an eagle on it. Mine is nicer-looking. British immigration officers at Heathrow and Gatwick are charming and pleasant and I pass through quickly. The US ones are mean and make people cry. Okay, yes I am joking about the passports (not about the US immig officers though, they really are bastards). In seriousness though, Britain is where I was born and grew up and at the end of the day, it is who I am. It's my identity. I am genuinely saddened when I think of my son having no foot in that part of my heritage. Without it, will he ever really understand me and why I think the way I do as an expat, or will he grow up thinking his mum says things weirdly?  

I enjoy living here. If I didn't, I'd leave. Here are some of the pros: The weather is a million times better. A MILLION. I can actually sunbathe in the garden for several months of the year. It doesn't rain that often. Snows even less. The customer service is pretty damn good. I can return an item of clothing to a shop and not have to have a speech prepared as to WHY I want to take it back. Here, they just take it from you, no questions asked. In M&S, it's a shame-inducing interrogation, even if you have the receipt in hand and tags still on the garment. (The last time I did a return was over 15 years ago, but clearly I am still traumatised. M&S, Worcester High Street, 1998. Oh the horror.) If you have a large appetite, you've hit the bonanza - all portions are humungous. And in comparison to Europe, dirt cheap. You can buy the latest Gwyneth Paltrow health foods all under one roof - Wholefoods. I know it's in London now, but still, does it carry Vegenaise??!!! I am sure this is the only country one can buy Vegan Sugar. I have to admit, never before did I realise sugar contained dairy or meat. *Seriously, people???*. 

All this has made me terribly nostalgic and a little bit homesick. I'm off to eat some Walkers crisps (prawn cocktail flavour, heaven) and chocolate digestive biscuits ($20 for a pack of SIX but I didn't care) whilst drinking a large mug of tea in front of BBC America.   

Elaine x