Nadine Mellor has believed in adventure – at least once a month – for most of her adult life, and that didn’t change when two kids were added to the equation. While it seems to be a much easier proposition to just stay at home with young ones, she lays out a pretty convincing argument of why we should just pack a carryon and go! I like her style.
Traveling with kids is, admittedly, a huge part of Nadine’s life. She is the London-based editor of i-escape Kids Collection, which features over 850 stylish family-friendly hotels, B&Bs, city apartments, and house rentals spanning 45 countries worldwide. I can’t wait to take you on a tour of her life! Friends, please welcome the Mellor family!
Q: Tell us about this jet-setting family.
A: Hi, I’m Nadine and my lovely Irish husband, Colman, and I have two charming and articulate children: our daughter Esme, almost seven, and son Cormac, who will be three in a couple of months. We currently live and work in London, but two years ago we returned home to this great city after five and a half wonderful years in San Francisco – and yes, we definitely left our hearts there! Both kids were born there so they have American citizenship (as well as British, Irish, and Australian nationalities).
Q: You’ve lived and travelled a lot of places with your family. Tell us why you’ve settled in North London.
A: I am actually from Islington, which is where I still live and my parents are 15 minutes’ walk away, which is super now we have kids. I was born and raised in this village. When I met Colman, he was living in South London, which is a great part of town but just not my village, so he did the gallant thing and moved to my area when we decided this was for life. And then just a year later, we had the opportunity to move to San Francisco, which I resisted to start with as I couldn’t imagine uprooting to live abroad again – I had already lived in Australia for seven years in three different stints – but once I was there I fell in love with it and we very nearly stayed in the States.
However, it is the right decision to return to London, closer to family and friends, and being in Europe speaks to us. Ultimately, we are from the British Isles. And Europe is such a fab place to live – so many different languages and cultures in a relatively small and accessible area – so we will never run out of great places to visit!
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: I know I’m extremely biased, but I love my neck of the woods. Islington is a 1000-year-old village which was swallowed up by London as it expanded in the 19th Century, so it still retains its own character and has a heart and hub to it (with more theatres and venues than any other borough in London bar Westminster). We live in the North of the Borough, between Arsenal and Finsbury Park tube stations, and are blessed with some of the best transport links in Zone 2. We have bus, tube, rail, and taxis on our doorstep, so that makes getting about so much easier. We are two stops from the Eurostar, an hour from Stansted, and just over an hour to Heathrow. We don’t need or have a car, which is a great saving, and we use Zipcar when we need to drive anywhere.
We are also very close to two large parks, a small nature reserve in our road, and the handsome Highbury Fields with swimming pool. All are great for getting the kids outdoors and active. We are all keen Arsenal supporters, naturally, and like the energy a world-class football club brings to the area.
The area defines modern multiculturalism as demonstrated by nearby eateries devoted to Turkish, Ethiopian, Algerian, Italian, and Somali cuisine – among many others – and there is a mosque at the top of our road, an Irish pub opposite, and a vibrant church at the other end. I like the fact that nearly all the retail and food outlets are not chains, so some real character is to be had.
We get our groceries from a locally run box scheme, which only sources from local farmers and artisan producers and delivers great produce. They go the extra mile for personal service. And we have a friendly milkman!
I have lived here since 2000 and the area is changing a lot, too, for the better (mostly apart from the ridiculous house price inflation in London) as the streets are greener with more planting schemes. You do notice that London is getting busier and busier – everybody seems to want to move here! We have a small garden which backs on to a former railway embankment (the trains still run but further back), and so are pretty sheltered and private to the rear of the property.
Q: After you purchased it, your home underwent serious renovations, inside and out. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?
A: The three story, four bedroom house had been rented out for many years prior to me buying it, and needed a great deal of work. It is a classic London terrace, so not very wide, and the back extension had been a bit of a botch job when done originally. I didn’t bargain on it having to be knocked down and rebuilt, which was actually a great outcome but definitely unwelcome in terms of my cash-flow!
I was lucky in that I was able not to live in the property when the major renovations were underway, moving in when it got to the painting and decorating stage. The hardest part was doing it by myself. It was before I met my husband, and I did make some mistakes along the way without a sounding board/partner to workshop things with, mostly rather minor. But it was a major operation. Everything was rewired, replastered, and replumbed, a brand new kitchen and a bathroom created in the rebuilt rear extension, plus a downstairs loo carved out between the kitchen and back living room.
I didn’t manage my money as well as I should have done, especially towards the end when I was running on empty. Some good decisions were made such as creating a small laundry room on the first floor landing beside the large bathroom, so garments aren’t far from the bedrooms or cluttering up the kitchen. And I was thrilled to discover original features hidden away under the wallpaper, fitted carpets, boarded up fireplaces, painted over plasterwork, boxed in banisters and doors.
The house has five original fireplaces, and the sixth had been replaced by a 1950s/1960s tiled affair, but I got that removed. This fantastic iron stove, previously on the first floor landing outside the bathroom, was restored and now graces the space that the original fireplace was in. Recently someone told me that in fact that stove is older than the house, so whoever built it in the 1880s must have salvaged it and had it added to this house, a detail I like because I love vintage items. I only buy second-hand clothes, and my family heirlooms and inheritances are my favourite possessions.
The biggest mistake was not doing what we call the side return, which is incorporating the side passage beside the property into a full width kitchen/diner. I just thought the kitchen felt huge (without any units in) and that it was more important to have more garden space, but in reality, of course, we are very social and always have people over and the kitchen is too narrow. This will be our next project, hopefully later this year.
Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included after the second round of renovations, as it relates to living well with your kids?
A: When we came back two years ago, we had so much to sort out. It had to become a family home overnight as we had had kids while living abroad and the house had always been full of party people up until then! All the rooms were redecorated and revamped, and we had to amalgamate the stuff we left behind in the house, the stuff we had stored in the loft, the stuff we brought back from San Francisco, and the stuff that the tenants had left behind. I counted 15 chopping boards and six double beds at one point! We had boxes and furniture piled up everywhere. So it was a huge task.
I had a baby of eight months just about to start crawling and still on the breast and no stair gates, I was about to get back to work, and my husband was looking for a job so didn’t take kindly to me nagging him to hang pictures, and my four year old was homesick for San Francisco. I just got my head down and went for it, and after two months hard slog we had made huge progress.
I decided that we each should have our own bedroom so all our individual items are in our own space, and that each room should be able to take multiple occupants as we are very keen to have our family come and stay as much as possible. I also decided that the kids’ rooms should have a colour scheme of lime green, blue, and orange, but I knew that I wanted them to be able to interchange items between the rooms if they wanted and didn’t want to go very girly or very boyish as I’m a little suspicious of these gender-assigned colour schemes!
We also decided that we weren’t going to toys strewn everywhere, especially in the adult spaces. We do have a box of toys in the kitchen for my son to play with, and there are the usual items affixed to the fridge for them to play with, the bathroom has a box of bath toys, and their DVDs and CDs are in the living room, but I don’t like wading through plastic.
I am not a minimalist person – I long to be so but can’t resist adding to the house all the time! – and so keeping things as tidy as possible is how I try to work it. One book in, one out is the rule for the shelves, for example. The big project that has just been completed to everybody’s great satisfaction is the Nature Hut in the garden, which is for the kids. I wanted them to have a space which is just theirs as we don’t have a playroom, and it means they can spend more time outside over the year. We bought it as a two story wooden playhouse, had the raised platform at the rear reconfigured and relandscaped, and I had it decorated in a Scandinavian style.
It has Scandi cushions and horse, and painted wooden plates inside along with a collection of shells, feathers, and a large piece of driftwood which we just bought back from our last trip to Italy. The furniture is all wooden, made by a local craftsman. I created a reading corner which has all their nature books in it, and added a poster all about UK wildlife. The kids love it and spend a lot of time in there especially when their friends come over. My daughter is planning to sleep in it one night this summer to raise money for wildlife conservation.
Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best?
A: I guess early evening after work and bath and en route to bed. I try to get us to all sit down around 6:30 pm so we can eat together. It can be challenging to come up with dishes that work for us all, as my son eats only protein and carbohydrate and is very firm when he’s finished that he gets down and disappears, but it is a good time to hang out and bond. Bath times are fun – my daughter currently tries to be a dolphin, so inevitably there’s a lot of splashing – and I love reading books to the kids. My husband is terrific with them both. Of course weekends are always to be treasured. We love our weekends.
Q: Your unique parenting style – an adventure every month – has given way to an amazing company. Please explain what i-escape is all about.
A: I’ve had an adventure every month for my whole adult life. These don’t have to be big travels – just a day trip out of London would count. My definition is that it is getting away from the city I live in for a time.
Once, when living in Sydney, I realized I hadn’t an adventure sorted for that month and my flatmate suggested taking a mystery flight, which I had never heard of. Apparently Qantas did them as a way of getting rid of unsold tickets. So I bought one, and didn’t know where I was going for the day until I showed up at the airport! It was Brisbane, so I went to the casino with an artist friend of mine, a big one off for me as I don’t gamble. Naturally, I lost money while he won.
So after having kids the adventures carried on, although I do concede that the actual months they were born I didn’t go anywhere, thinking giving birth enough of an adventure!
i-escape is an online travel agent and guide to wonderful places to stay around the world. We have nearly 1500 places in over 60 territories. The places to stay which we promote are all small, stylish, and characterful, with no chain hotels. We work with hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, and rentals. Every one is hand-picked and we visit them all to review in depth. Every property has nine pages of review with highs and lows about the property, rooms, eating, activities, location, rates, etc., and lots of photographs. If something doesn’t make the grade, then we don’t add it, and if somewhere goes downhill then it is removed from the site.
We have our own booking engine – the price is the same as going direct or through another channel – and clients get a gift from the hotel for booking through i-escape. I have worked for the company for 10 years now so have seen it grow and grow, which is very heartwarming. It wins awards regularly – we just won Best Website at the Telegraph Travel Awards before Christmas – and gets very good press in the UK, and has a successful social media profile.
My main role now, which is perfect for me, is the Editor of the Kids Collection, which was launched two and a half years ago dedicated to the properties which are most family-friendly in the portfolio. Last count, there were over 850 of them! We have detailed search functions so you can find a property in the right destination exactly for the age range of your children plus the amenities and facilities you want.
Q: Why do you feel it’s so important to travel with kids? What are the best lessons they’ve learned while racking up miles?
A: Gosh, there are so many benefits, not least is the fact that if you don’t bring them with you, you end up travelling less! And vacation times or weekends away are, for me, the stuff that bonds us, the anecdotes that we share. Even a day trip is an adventure when kids come along, so the kids are excited to travel and it gives them a wider perspective.
We went to Myanmar over Christmas and my daughter gave away some of the books we had with us to a school which was teaching the local kids English. She has a greater understanding about the way the world works, different cultures, different ways of doing things. We travelled in South America for two months on the way back to Britain, and she was more adventurous with Brazilian and Argentinian food than she was with our own fare sometimes. We like looking at nature and wildlife, which is often in greater abundance outside the UK.
It has also taught them some patience, that you need to take time to reach a destination. And that living out of a small wheelie suitcase is just fine.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?
A: I think the thing that kids teach you is to be in the present more, which is a great life lesson. And I have surprised myself that I had much deeper reserves of patience than I thought (which does run out sometimes without warning!). I am not a natural baby person. I’ve always found small children more interesting because they can talk and they look at the world with such fresh eyes that they always provide a cute or interesting alternative view. What wonderful imaginations!
But I do miss being able to strap the baby in the carrier and head on out; now it takes longer to get going sometimes! My daughter is starting to get self-conscious about kissing and cuddling me in front of others, and I shall miss that enormously when they both get too cool for school.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me that parenting can sometimes be a little boring. I knew to expect it being frustrating, relentless, joyful, emotional. Having to repeat everything again and again to get children to do the right thing – whether brushing teeth or manners or homework or not hitting me with a stick – is the only bit I don’t like.
Thank you so much, Nadine! I’m sure you’ve inspired many readers to dream about where they should head this weekend.
What do you think? Is one adventure a month too ambitious with your family’s schedule or budget? Or do you think it’s a worthwhile investment to get some fresh air every once in a while? (And if you’re traveling near or far, check out i-escape for some wanderlust inspiration and thoughtful reviews.)