By Gabrielle. Photography by the very talented Lesley Colvin.
I always tell my homeowners who sweetly participate in a tour that I only need around 25 to 30 photos of their spaces. But this is one of those tours when I simply had to double that number. Plus ten. First, because Lesley Colvin shot this house. She is a brilliant photographer – here’s another gorgeous home she captured! — and has a knack for catching the spirit of the family among all the tables and couches and collections. And also because Celia Munoz has a home that will make you sigh and say things like “We need wallpaper, I think.” and “While you’re out, grab me a few gallons of white paint, will you?” and “A greenhouse will change our lives. Pick one of those up, too!” Hah!
However it happened, Celia and her husband ended up in the perfect-for-them home. Renovations will be underway in a few years, but everything is working well for now. It’s lovely when that happens, isn’t it?
So please help me welcome Celia warmly. She has loads to tell us about her home and company, and mostly about taking chances and becoming the person you really want to be. Even if that person is completely different than the one you thought you’d become! It’s inspiring stuff! Please enjoy it. Welcome, Celia!
Hello, everyone! I’m Celia. It’s so nice to be with you. A little about my life…
My husband and I met in London ten years ago at a dinner party, and ever since then we have not looked back. It was love at first sight, and despite coming from very different cultures — he is Dutch and I am Spanish — we quickly found we had so much in common and saw life in a very similar way.
For example, on our third date we asked each other how many children we wanted to have. We decided to write it on a piece of paper and exchange papers. When we opened the piece of paper, to our surprise, we had both written the number six! We stuck to the plan and we nearly got to six children!
We are now parents to five beautiful children: Flavia is seven, Lucas is six, Siena is five, Bosco is four, and Hugo is three. All of the children were born and raised in London, but they speak Spanish and Dutch fluently as these are the languages we speak at home.
We live in an incredibly pretty North London neighbourhood called Hampstead. There is so much history here; it is very British and very beautiful. Just before getting married, my husband and I decided to move from our flat in West London to an area that was a lot more family oriented. We wanted to be closer to a green space but also remain close to the centre of town. All of our friends lived in West London so it was a tough decision to make at the time — having no family then, our friends were everything — but we loved Hampstead so much that we were determined to find something, even if it meant buying something we could use as a base before finding something we really liked for the long term.
We both love old properties, the shabbier looking the better, and we love the idea of restoring a house, reclaiming its former glory, and making it our own. We first bought a little cottage which we completely renovated. But once the building works finished, we moved in with nearly four children; the house started looking a bit like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!
And so, we decided to look around for somewhere with more space. The search was hard and it took us a long time. We were looking for a Georgian property in an eminently Victorian neighbourhood and something very run down that we could redo — not easy to find! We wanted to buy the biggest property we could afford, so we searched for places that were as run down as possible in order to get as much space as we could for our budget.
We found our current house through very good friends who happen to be our neighbours now, too. We immediately fell in love with it. We are planning to redo the inside of the house in a few years but until we do we have done a lot of revamping to make it feel ours until the building works start.
To me, Hampstead is possibly the most beautiful neighbourhood in London. I love the North London feel which is quite relaxed and unpretentious. Hampstead is located at the highest point in London, which allows you to see the rest of the city from your roof top. I find there is a real quality of life as we walk everywhere, even in to Central London. And there is Hampstead Heath, which is the biggest park in the capital. It is here where we spend most of our weekends.
We take long walks and the children climb trees and run to the other side of the park, all the way until they reach another beautiful area called Highgate. We then have a delicious meal in our favourite English gastropub — The Bull & Last. One of the best things about Hampstead is its history and its links to many great writers, poets, and artists who have lived here over the years.
It has maintained that bohemian feel but is also very sophisticated — it is the perfect balance. We get the best of both worlds: the busy buzz of a very vibrant city and the peace and quiet and fresh air of the countryside. I also love the fact that in spite of being in one of the world’s busiest cities, there is such a strong sense of community here. It feels like living in a quaint village.
The glass greenhouse was already here when we moved in. I don’t have particularly green hands — although we just started our vegetable garden so I’m learning fast! — but I thought it would be wonderful for our children to have a space just for them, where we don’t need to worry about them getting dirty. They drop paint, create, and just have fun. In my opinion, that little art house looks better when it is a mess. That is what it is there for and the children love it!
I find it to be a highly inspiring environment and our children spend hours in there during the weekend. We have so many children that we very rarely have time to do play-dates, so my husband and I have focused on creating spaces inside the house that allow our children to have full scope for their own creativity and entertainment. All of our recreational time is dedicated to our family and is centred around being together, so whatever we don’t do outside — we do lots of activities outdoors or in the centre of town as London offers great cultural diversity — we do in our house, and the art room is just one of our great creations, which came totally by accident.
Our art room has become the best babysitter ever! Generally on Saturday afternoons, our children paint or they work with clay while we are sat outside having a glass of wine, with their little screams of joy (and fighting) as background noise. To us, this is all we need!
I feel my style is evolving all the time. I guess my style is in general very classic, just like my clothes. I have a secret passion for XVIII Century French antiques and anything that emulates a Vert-Galant feel. I got this passion from my French grandparents and my parents, and I guess I add to this anything and everything that I find beautiful and that inspires me along the way.
When I say anything it is literally like that — from an old toy, to a piece of contemporary Scandinavian furniture! I like aesthetics that are not overly formal but very elegant, and I love to see spaces with a real sense of history. I like spaces that are built in a lifetime, where you can spend hours looking at objects because they are either interesting, beautiful, or they just mean so much.
In our home, every corner, every object has a story and it is a reflection of our lives, our travels, and what all of us as a family are building together.
Things have definitely changed since we’ve added children, and my home décor is no exception. I have become a lot more practical. I still like beautiful open spaces that are not overly invaded by my children’s toys. (They actually have very few!) Beautiful vintage velvets and silks have had to go, and have been replaced by more child-friendly and resilient linens that can hide children’s’ jam fingerprints!
I am a very visual person and I have always loved editing my interiors, even from a very young age when I lived at my parents’ home. I can spend a whole evening looking at a wall and ask my husband thousands of times…what do you think if…this or that…? Having a nice home that reinforces that sense of belonging is very important to us.
La Coqueta was born when I opened my shop in 2013. I have a background in Psychology but I always loved children’s clothes. Eventually I craved a change in my professional life, so I went back to university to continue my studies, taking an MSc in Mental Health Studies. But all the while, a passion for children’s fashion was growing. It was not until I had my first child that I felt it was the right time for me to start my own business. I saw a gap in the market for traditional children’s wear with a luxury feel and an affordable price tag, and I wanted to bring beautiful, well-made clothes from my country of origin into this market.
When I had my first child, Flavia, people would stop me in the street to ask me where they could get hold of the clothes my daughter was wearing. Unfortunately for them I couldn’t help! These were the clothes I had bought from my hometown in the South of Spain, and all were very similar to the styles I wore as a girl. This reinforced the gut feeling that I had about selling Spanish children’s clothes in London.
All the clothes that I design and sell are initially tried on by my own children prior to production so that we can advise customers on sizing and also ensure that it is a product that my customers are going to love, and most importantly, that is practical and easy to care for.
Through my new job I have found a new way of life, which coincidently started while I was having my children. So in a way, we have all grown up together and we make it work. I don’t have any particular secret, I just do my best to be happy, make my family happy, and be the best I can be at my job. It helps to be extremely organised, be very proactive, not being shy to ask for help when you need it, and not overly think about things or worry too much. It’s just too busy!
I find growing older — and hopefully wiser! — helps me greatly to achieve this, as I definitely wasn’t a natural at it before having children. I have also become a lot more accepting and less hard on myself. I do not always get it right when it comes to parenting and that’s okay. It’s all part of the joy of becoming a good parent! At least that is what my mum tells me to make me feel better when I’m about to pull my hair out!
Even though this career wasn’t what I had planned or studied for, it always felt natural. If I would have been in Spain and decided to change my career so completely and become a children’s wear designer, it may have been a more difficult road; what you study in my country generally determines what you do for the rest of your life. However, things are different in the UK. You can become anything you want to here! If you work hard and have great ideas and drive, you have the opportunity to make it work and achieve your goals.
In London, I have discovered that you are the driver of your own professional destiny, more than anywhere else in the world. I am also very lucky because my husband has always been incredibly supportive of everything I do, so that helps.
Was it scary? YES! Very! At the beginning I felt embarrassed to tell people what my new job was going to be. Opening a shop? Making clothes and selling them? That was way off what I had done until then.
I upset quite a few people in my family and made some of the people laugh around me, which wasn’t always easy to handle! But the truth is, I made it work and I don’t regret it one bit! I remember the day I opened my shop, all the mums in my children’s school turned up for support and I did not know how to use the till! I was extremely nervous and embarrassed.
But I am now in a job where I learn new things every day, I meet new people with new ideas on a regular basis, and I work with the people I want to work with. It’s fabulous, it’s hard work, and it’s often stressful…but it’s all self-inflicted and the rewards greatly outweigh the stress.
My favourite part about living with my own children is to be able to guide them through their childhood in to adulthood, teaching them all I know so that they can take what they think is most useful in order to become the best adults they can be.
What has surprised me the most is that I have taken on the same traits and parenting style as my own mother! All the things I used to criticise her about when I was a teenager, I now do the same…and believe me, my mother reminds me of this every time we speak!
The other day I saw a friend who just had a baby, and I missed being pregnant again. However that feeling lasted only a few minutes until the baby had to have a new nappy. I guess now that I am out of nappies I don’t think I would go back by choice!
My children are so close in age and still so young that there is little I miss about the past. I’m enjoying the present but I’m sure I will miss lots of the things I’m going through now.
I would love them to remember our 7:00 am breakfasts, all together as a family sitting around the dining table, chatting, screaming, crying — them, not mummy and daddy! — and laughing like there’s no tomorrow. Our breakfast times are just the best, despite the fact that we wake up early every day; we do it just so we have these special moments.
As a mum I would love them to remember me as the person who comes to their bed every evening and spends 20 minutes having a chat with each one individually. I know it could make some people laugh, but when you have five children under seven and a busy job, this is an absolute privilege as otherwise everything we do is as a group. I just want them to know daily that each of them, no matter how busy I am or how many children I have, is special to me.
There is so much advise around parenting, that sometimes it can just seem overwhelming. It took me a couple of years after I had my first child to realise that advise can be useful, but in the end these are only tips that work for some people and not for others. As a mum I think it best to decide for yourself and find out what works for you without having to explain or justify why you do what you do.
Whatever makes your family and you happy is obviously the right formula regardless of what other people may say.
In case you were about to Google Vert-Galant, it’s a literary expression that essentially means a man — or decor style, in this instance — that is still working hard despite its age. (See, old charmer!) I’m adding this one to my vocabulary. May we live among (and become!) all things Vert-Galant. Thank you, Celia, for all this beauty you’ve added to our days.
Not to mention inspiration! How many of you are doing just fine in a career that fills your days, but are also dreaming of something that fuels your passion? Would you ever change? It’s so hard to reinvent yourself, isn’t it? Are you living in an area where it seems totally possible to jump onto a new path and become someone completely different? I’d love to hear about it. (Or maybe we should all meet in London and just go for it!)
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.