You’re going to love Kate’s home in London, and I am so excited she shared it with us. When she first moved in, the house had been virtually untouched since the 1950s — and you can definitely see touches of that (hello, vintage wallpaper!). The updated house feels beautiful and bright and modern all at the same time. There are so many charming details in these photos you are going to want to pour over them, and Kate has some really beautiful things to say about motherhood and design as well. Welcome, Kate!!
Hi, I’m Kate a Mother, Interior Designer and Freelance Writer. I share a chaotic love and noise filled home with my husband Joel, a born and bred Londoner and Investment Surveyor, and our two kids Sophie (8) and Louis (6).
I’m always surprised at quite how much noise we manage to create as an average family of four. My kids only seem to have one volume setting (max!), and our house constantly reverberates with the sound of pop music, singing, gymnastic routines, Judo wrestling or my daughter Sophie’s latest obsession — the French Horn. I’m naturally a quiet person but I’ve learnt to embrace the chaos.
Joel and I met during fresher’s week at The University of Sussex in Brighton. I wish I could say it was love at first sight but he played it cool and it wasn’t until part way through our second year that we actually plucked up the courage to tell each other how we felt. He won me over with a frozen microwave dinner and a homemade mix-tape (15 years on I still have that mix tape, its practically an antique now!).
After 7 years together including a year living apart whilst Joel studied in Madrid we eventually made it down the aisle in 2009. Our daughter Sophie was born 3 months later.
During my twenties I worked for an American pharmaceutical company on a new treatment for Crohn’s disease, something that I myself have suffered from since childhood. After Sophie’s birth I made the decision not to return and instead changed career paths completely to explore my life long passion for interior design.
We now live near leafy Hampstead Heath in North London. It’s a far cry from where we owned our first flat, slap bang in the center of the busy Clerkenwell Design District. As young professionals this neighborhood suited us perfectly but we quickly realized it wasn’t where we wanted to raise our family. We gradually moved further north in search of more space, eventually ending up here in our much dreamed of project house.
Hampstead Heath is a charming area — spacious, green, village-y, full of pubs and sweet cafes. It’s calm without being too sedate and has a wonderful laid-back family vibe. When we first moved in to our road it all felt rather too grown up ,but over the past few years some younger families have moved in and we have adjusted to the slightly slower pace of life.
We love having the Heath (one of London’s biggest parks) on our doorstep. Muddy tree climbing followed by tea and cakes at Kenwood House is how we begin most Sundays. On a windy day (quite common in England) Parliament Hill is a perfect spot for flying a kite and has some of the prettiest views in London. The area is a little green oasis with all the convenience of city living minus the craziness. Having said that, there are still too many cars and parking is a daily battlefield, it’s the only thing I dislike about London.
House prices in North London are eye-watering, you can expect to pay anything upwards of £2 Million for a 4 bedroom family home. We searched relentlessly every weekend for 2 years to find something more affordable that would allow us to create the space we wanted and stamp our own style. There were definitely a few disappointments along the way — the London property market is cut throat but we tried to view the process as a journey of compromise and refinement that would eventually lead us to the right house. Looking back the houses that fell through would definitely not have made us as happy as where we live now
Eventually we stumbled on this wonderful art deco time warp. The house was built in the early 1900’s and had been home to the same couple since the 1950’s. They clearly had a love of wallpaper as almost every flat surface in the house had been covered in heavily patterned designs, including the internal doors. When we first took the kids to look around they couldn’t get over all the secret doors and cubby holes — they had never seen anything like it.
The property was a probate sale, making the whole process a lot more complicated. The executors were looking for a quick sale and we knew we couldn’t compete with the hungry developers and cash buyers queuing up at the door. We both knew that this house was the one so we decided to pull out all the stops. We wrote a long letter about our family, our hopes for our children to grow up in this area and our dreams for the house. We asked the agent to pass the letter on to the owner’s family in the hope that it would sway them. It worked and at the beginning of 2014 we got the keys.
What drew us to this house first and foremost was the beautiful large mature garden, such a find in London. Also the house felt refreshingly wide with loads of natural light and well-proportioned rooms. After viewing so many typically tall and narrow Victorian townhouses it felt uplifting to walk in to such a bright open space. We immediately saw the potential and despite the sludgy brown carpets, yellow ceilings and general 50’s chintz we knew that we could turn it into something special.
The previous owners had stripped the property of all its early period features, I guess in the 50’s trends were moving towards more modern, low maintenance interiors. There were no cornices or fireplaces left, even the original panelled doors and windows had been replaced with cheap flat doors and UPVC plastic. My ultimate goal was to create an exciting modern space whilst also reinstating as many of the original architectural details as possible. To me it felt like the perfect blank canvas.
We knew that this was going to be a long and costly renovation so planned to tackle the project in two phases. We decided to live in the property for a couple of years before starting the major renovation works. We updated as much of the superficial décor as we could ourselves in order to create a pleasant temporary space that felt homely and inviting.
These photos reflect the first phase of the process and I love looking back at them, seeing all the cosy spaces that we managed to create for next to nothing. It was still a little tired and rough around the edges but honestly we loved it.
We didn’t spend anything on the kitchen or bathrooms; in fact my kids bathed in a large blue bucket for 2 years as there were no baths in the house. We ripped up all the dusty old carpets, sanded and painted the floorboards white and spent months stripping back half a century’s worth of wallpaper. By the time we reached the yellow flowery wallpaper in the kitchen we just couldn’t face doing any more so we left it and I’m so glad we did!
What started out as my least liked room in the house actually ended up becoming my favourite — even down to the Bakelite wall mounted storage jugs and the wonky drop down formica table. And as for the walls, I think we all fell a little bit in love with that crazy yellow wallpaper!
Fast-forward 2 years to our recent renovations and I actually had a huge lump in my throat when that wall got ripped down (luckily we managed to save a panel of the wallpaper to frame in the new house).
I grew up in a tiny village in rural Hampshire about 2 hours outside of London. To say we lived in the middle of nowhere is an understatement. Our house was tucked half way down a farm track surrounded by cornfields and our nearest shops were miles away. Looking back now it all sounds rather idyllic but I remember at the time feeling quite frustrated at having to rely on my parents to take me anywhere, (I’m sure they felt the same).
When I left home at 18 to attend university in Brighton I fell instantly for the excitement and buzz of living in a city and from that moment onwards I never looked back. I love London for its diversity and the endless opportunities on offer here. As a country girl I think I still have a little of the wide-eyed tourist left in me despite having been here now for 13 years
My husband grew up in London and is quite blasé about living here but I’m certain the novelty will never wear off for me. I am constantly reminding my kids how lucky we are to live in one of the most exciting cities in the world and I’m determined to make sure they never take it for granted.
Our house is situated in one of the highest points in London so from our bedroom windows we can see the entire skyline, from Canary Wharf in the east to Hyde Park in the West. It’s very easy to get stuck in your local bubble because we have everything we need here but our view is a constant reminder that the city is on our doorstep and to get out there and enjoy it.
There are so many incredible restaurants, galleries and museums on offer in London, you can play tourist every weekend. One of our favourite things to do is just to walk along the River Thames. I have a thing for bridges and London has so many! Crossing the river and seeing the emerging new architecture nestled in amongst 1000 year old buildings never fails to impress me. You really get a sense of how much London has changed over the centuries from this viewpoint.
Of course like anywhere, living in London has its difficulties, especially where raising kids is concerned. It is non-stop busy, noisy and fast paced. You definitely need to keep your wits about you at all times but I also feel that my kids are growing up to be way more streetwise and aware than I ever was. London is a true multicultural melting pot and I hope that this rich environment will help shape them into adventurous, tolerant and open-minded individuals.
I love mixing old with new, our home is a real mish-mash of modern design classics, antiques, ikea basics and up-cycled flea market finds. A lot of my design choices come from a desire to create a certain look within a tight budget. Taking on a house that needed so much work has meant that we’ve had to be very careful about where we spend our money. I have sourced most of our pieces from junk shops and flea markets, and sometimes if I really can’t find what I’m looking for I make or alter something that we already have knocking around.
I absolutely love hunting for a unique piece of furniture or art. My mum was an antiques dealer in her spare time and I remember being dragged along to auction houses after school, with a cheese sandwich and a packet of crisps. Her eye for vintage treasures definitely rubbed off on me. I think old pieces add depth and character to an interior, I love when a piece has a story behind it.
Essentially I buy things that I love, or I think my kids will love. Often I will come home with something totally random that completely changes the layout or vibe of a room and I’ll spend the whole afternoon rearranging furniture to make it work. Our house is constantly evolving! My kids think it’s fun to play spot the difference.
If you were to ask my kids they would probably say my greatest mom skills are creativity and fun. I’m basically still a kid at heart and I love planning new projects for us to do together. We design board games, make magazines, sew, craft and build all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. Our garage is bursting at the seams with random creations.
Our lives are so overrun with entertainment on demand and instant gratification, I worry that imagination is slowly becoming stifled. I want to encourage my kids to think for themselves and make their own fun instead of always reaching for the remote. Having said this the tv will always have a place in our home. Family movie nights were a big part of my childhood and will continue to be for my kids
I hope our kids will remember how warm and homely our house was and all the fun and quirky little details that made them love living here. The hammock swing in their bedroom that turned into a trapeze, our sloping back garden that made the most perfect slip and slide. All the bed bouncing, den building and cosy story times huddled together on the sofa. I also hope that they will take with them the journey that we went on to create this home. I want them to learn to be resourceful, to have a go themselves and to never take simple things for granted.
They’ve seen the hard work that we’ve put into this house over the years. They have helped paint walls, strip wallpaper and have endured countless bucket baths along the way. My hope is that they will appreciate that it doesn’t just appear over night. The things I hope they will forget are all the times I dropped the ball during the renovation process. The forgotten PE kits on a Monday morning, the late homework and the endless dust!
My favourite thing about living with my kids has been watching their lovely relationship develop. They have shared a room since they were babies and they are as close as siblings could be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always harmonious in our house, in fact they could make bickering an Olympic sport. But at the end of the day they mean the world to each other.
Having them so close in age has been great but they are both growing up so fast. I also think Louis tries desperately to keep up with his sister and sometimes I forget that he is still the baby of the family. I miss all their funny mispronunciations and hilarious phrases. For a long time we didn’t correct them because they would make us laugh so much! Now instead we have a book of all their greatest sayings.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!)… to make the most of the time I have with my children and to be truly present. I remember during the early sleep deprived days with 2 children under 3 my Mum would say to me: don’t wish it away, their childhood will be gone in a blink and you will miss it.
I think at the time I was too tired to really take note but I totally get it now. They are still young but I have recently started to feel the heaviness of time slipping away, their independence growing and my role in their lives changing.
It’s so easy to become distracted by the general hubbub of life, smartphones, social media, to do lists, etc., but over the past year I have tried to focus more on really making the important stuff count. I have filtered out a lot of the unnecessary distractions, phones being the main one. I’ve become a better listener and am now much more mindful of how we all spend our time together. It’s made such a difference to our home. I only wish I’d got here sooner.
Thank you, Kate! Such a darling home with so many wonderful details. I was so interested to hear that some of the great design choices, like the white washed floors or the strip of unfinished wood up the center of the staircas, came from necessity and the desire to not spend a lot of money unnecessarily. In our social media ready world, it’s so easy to think that we “have to” have certain things to make our house or lives perfect. I love this reminder that living with something unexpected or initially undesired (like that amazing yellow wallpaper!) can lead to something really beautiful and perfect.
Are there things in your home you initially wanted to change, but now have fallen in love with? Are there design details you’re “living with” that you’re itching to change?
Flower Silhouette Rug in Entry
Photo credit to the inimitable Lesley Colvin. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.