There might already be a major change in the home we’re about to peek into today, if Rachel and Pete’s new baby has arrived! Newborn or not, there are still a lot of lovely additions to this home to inspire us, especially if we imagine this London space with its original brown carpet, magnolia walls, and dingy baseboards. (You’ll see the before of the kitchen, and I bet you’ll utter something along the lines of “Eek!”) Rachel and Pete have done so much to brighten it all up, and she has much to warn us about when tackling DIY while pregnant…and not particularly skilled in the first place!
She’s got a lot to share, and I hope you enjoy it all just as much as I did. Welcome, Rachel!
Hi! I’m Rachel, currently pregnant with my second child. I live with my partner, Pete, and two-and-a-half year old son, George, in the middle of the glorious melting pot that is Brixton, home to one of the best markets in London.
Pete teaches physics at a nearby secondary school, and I work with his sister on their Thai street food business, Bangwok. It means that I get to work from home doing all the paperwork, strategizing and organizing required to run a street food business. So much paperwork!
We really appreciate the impact that not having to commute or work long hours has had on our quality of life. It makes a huge difference! I’m also hoping it will help make the transition to two children easier, as those wonderful school holidays mean that Pete will be around lots.
George is our bright, inquisitive, loud toddler. His auntie recently pointed out that he does not stop talking, and now we really notice it! I don’t mind really, though. It’s kind of incredible to be able to have proper conversations with your child, isn’t it?
Since moving to London – we both went to Oxford University – Pete and I have always lived in Brixton. At first it was because it was affordable and had great transport links, which is very important in London. But over the past seven years, it’s really become home. It’s funny what you get used to; it’s so full of people, colour, and noise, but we don’t even notice it now.
Brixton has always been an edgy, culturally diverse place to live. But in the past three or four years, it’s undergone a real transformation. In an effort to regenerate an old part of the famous market, loads of new eateries have opened and it has quickly become one of the trendier places in London.
Thankfully, we started looking to buy just before everyone else had the same idea and prices shot up. The whole process was such an eye opener. I started off keen to live in one of the lovely Victorian houses in the centre of Brixton and I was all about period features, but we quickly realized just how much you pay for those extra touches. As Pete pointed out, we could put in our own fireplace or wooden floors and not pay the £50,000 extra it seemed to add to a house price!
Pete and I are real homebodies, so more than anything, it was important to find somewhere that we wanted to spend a lot of time and for that we were willing to compromise on location. In the end, we ended up buying just outside Brixton. The location and the fact that the flat was tired and needed a reasonable amount of work meant that we got it for a good price. Actually, being a little bit out of Brixton works perfectly for us as it’s quieter and we’re near a couple of great parks (which is so important with a little one), but we can still walk to Brixton in about ten minutes. I love that everything we need is only a walk away: parks, cafes, shops.
Another huge plus of our flat is space, which is something at a real premium in London. Again, because we’re on the edge of a desirable area, rather than in it, our money went further and we could afford somewhere bigger. I love that we have enough space to settle down. For a lot of our friends, they’ve chosen to buy slightly smaller places in nicer areas, but it means they’re already thinking about moving. As my parents live in Manchester, I wanted space for them to be able to visit, too, which has become even more important since George arrived.
We moved into our flat when I was six weeks pregnant and planned to redecorate the house before the baby was born. I was totally clueless about DIY and completely underestimated just how much work we needed to do and how long it would take. I’d gone into it thinking that it just needed some cosmetic work, maybe a bit of paint, but we ended up basically gutting the whole place and starting again. Every single room needed totally redecorating – it was all covered in disgusting brown carpet, the walls were magnolia, and the skirting boards were cream.
I think we could have gotten away with repainting everything and sorting out the floors and it would have looked nice, but actually, all the crazy things Pete did have made a major difference. I remember the morning after we moved in, Pete jumped out of bed at 7:00 am and starting knocking out where the fireplace had been covered up; this now houses our wood-burning stove.
He discovered a couple of other fireplaces that had been covered up, too, and a whole cupboard in George’s room that now houses a ton of baby stuff. Although George’s room is huge, as it’s in the basement it felt a bit dark and dingy when we moved in; there was a big beam and pillar in the middle of the room holding it up. Pete was determined to get rid of it to make the room brighter, and that entailed removing the floor of the room above to screw all the joists together, but now his room is so much brighter! The white floor helps, too.
For the first eight or so months before George was born, we essentially lived in a building site as we slowly redecorated each room. At any one time, there was usually at least one room absolutely full of tools and rubble. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. Once he was born, things slowed down a bit and we slowly completed smaller jobs such as the hallway.
Then last summer we tackled the big job: the kitchen. We left it until last, as truthfully, I just couldn’t face it! I knew it would be amazing afterwards, but I also knew the process would be incredibly painful. It was a reasonable sized kitchen with a small dining room at the back that was cold and damp. We planned to knock it though into one big room and have big patio doors at the end. Of course, nothing is that simple, Pete essentially took the roof off the dining room and rebuilt it by himself. As I suspected, it was a LONG summer trying to entertain a toddler while Pete worked on the kitchen, but it really has made the biggest difference. We love it!
We absolutely love our flat now and there’s a barely a day that does by that we don’t talk about how great it is. But the process itself was AWFUL! Being pregnant and a total DIY novice, there was very little I could do and I found this really frustrating. For me, the biggest lesson I learned was that DIY always takes AT LEAST twice as long as you think it will, and and dust will get absolutely everywhere.
Something that helped us was to have deadlines, so I would say the spare room needs to be finished by the end of July because my parents are visiting, and that helped us actually finish rooms off. That and learning to manage my expectations! I soon realized that the flat wouldn’t be finished by the time George was born, so we prioritized and finished what we could. It was depressing, because now we had a baby; DIY was the last thing on our mind, but we slowly got there!
I’m pretty fanatical about keeping things tidy. (Not clean, mind you! That’s why we have a cleaner!) I hate clutter, so we don’t really have any trinkets or knick knacks on display. But I do like to add personality by hanging things on the wall. In our living room growing up, all the walls were completely covered in photos and although I haven’t gone that mad, yet, I do like to hang photos.
I try to keep things as minimal as possible, but that’s not so easy with a kid and a partner who has a lot of hobbies and tools. We’re lucky to have a decent amount of storage so that the things we don’t use that often, like old baby clothes and camping gear, can be hidden away. You can’t beat Ikea for storage ideas and solutions; I basically know their catalogue inside-out!
In terms of style, decorating this flat had probably been the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to even explore what that means and I found Pinterest so helpful for collecting ideas. Before that, we always rented and didn’t have much choice over furniture or decorations. As we pretty much gutted the whole house, we tried to get each room finished to a basic standard before moving onto the next one. We’ve kept it all very neutral and have slowly added personality over the past few years as we’ve lived here, which has actually worked really well.
For example, George’s room is huge and one of the last rooms we finished before he was born. In fact, we added the skirting boards when I was overdue! It always felt a bit bare and cold to me and we never spent that much time in there. But as he’s gotten older, we’ve slowly added more furniture as he’s needed it – to house all his toys! – and it now feels really cosy and is somewhere he loves to play.
We bought most of our furniture either second-hand or from Ikea, so as a result, we’re not too precious about any of it, which is kind of necessary with children! While we teach George to respect his home and the things in it, it wasn’t the end of the world when he drew all over the table when he was littler.
We’re also fairly relaxed in terms of baby-proofing, which I think is much more of an American thing anyway, and our home is somewhere he can roam with freedom. When he was smaller, we had baby gates to stop him climbing the stairs, but at two-and-a-half, there’s nowhere that’s really off limits to him.
In terms of toys and kids stuff, I try to keep most of them in his room. We have some boxes under the sofa in the living room with some games and puzzles, and his bath toys are all in a box that fits under the sink unit. I like that that he can access his toys when he needs them, but I can tidy them away when they’re not in use!
Even though I studied chemistry at university, I’ve always known I wanted to work in the food business. I started the food blog What Rachel Ate about six years ago and when I got a job on the BBC Food website, I discovered I also loved SEO, analytics, and creating great digital content.
When I left the BBC to work at BangWok, I knew I wanted to keep a foot in the digital world and I’d been thinking about creating a lifestyle blog for a while. I’d always been a voracious reader of blogs and I felt like I had something unique to add. There was a real gap, especially in the UK, for a lifestyle blog for women in their 30s that covered the things they were actually interested in – parenting, TV, make up, work – all in an accessible way.
I knew I wanted the blog to be professional. Even though it wasn’t going to make money straight away, I wanted to treat it in the same way. I also knew the effort involved, so I asked a couple of friends to write the blog with me. Working together has been a really positive experience as we all bring different skills to the table.
We’ve only been writing it for about six months and while it’s still really hard – even with three people – it’s been so rewarding to see which posts people really engage with. Switching from writing about food to more personal posts hasn’t been easy, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge.
When I wonder what my children will remember about me and this home, I think of my own mum. My memories flood with the fact that she is a fantastic cook and one of the warmest people I know – she’s always trying to feed people! I hope that my children remember some of that about our home. I want it be full of warmth, love, and lots of good food! As we don’t have to commute, we always have a proper sit down breakfast together in the morning and it’s one of my favourite times of the day – so relaxed and everyone’s usually in a good mood.
This year we also hosted Christmas for the first time. The flat was absolutely full of family and little kids and it was crazy, but so fun. It was so cool to think that we were starting to create our own family traditions.
My family live in Manchester and we’ve always said that we’d move north eventually to buy a mansion as houses are so much cheaper! But for the moment, we’re really happy where we are. We always joke that we could fit about four kids into George’s room, so space isn’t an issue!
As for becoming a mum myself, I got pregnant easily and had a very straightforward pregnancy, so I think I expected to find being a mother easy, too. I dutifully read various parenting books and thought I was well prepared. Ha! What a shock those first few months were. They were probably the most difficult of my life, and something you could never prepare yourself for. I felt like I was totally floundering.
Once I started getting some sleep and went back to work, things really changed and I enjoyed him so much more. I think getting back some of my sense of self really helped. What really surprises me now is how much I love him and how powerful that feeling is. Sure he can still drive me mad, but I always look forward to picking him up after a day at work. It’s such a cliche, but I think he’s so bright, funny, and beautiful. I really wanted a baby, but I didn’t expect to enjoy having a toddler so much. This is definitely my favorite stage so far and I can’t wait to have two of them; I know it’s it’s going to be crazy, but in a few years time they’re going to have so much fun together.
I wish someone had told me to relax! I caused myself so much unnecessary stress and anxiety in the beginning worrying about why George was feeding so often or not sleeping more and trying desperately to find patterns in his behavior.
I wish I’d seen this piece of advice on A Cup of Jo: A very useful phrase to repeat whenever you start to ask why your baby is doing something confusing and unpredictable: Babies be babies.
Now that a few more of my friends have had babies, it’s so obvious how different all babies are! Some will follow a routine and sleep well straight away, and others, like George, won’t. I’m hoping I’ll be a bit more relaxed this time and enjoy those newborn snuggles a bit more instead of worrying about forming bad habits.
Babies be babies! It’s true! That hilarious quote goes on a bit more: “Your spouse is not the enemy. The baby is the enemy.” I’m still giggling at that. Thank you, Rachel, for all this goodness. And, truthfully I’m finally recognizing you as the Rachel from What Rachel Ate; I’ve loved more than a few of your recipes over the years! I’m excited to check out your newest endeavor, Everyday 30.
One thing Rachel mentioned – and truly, it was a tiny, tiny sentence! – is how she’s fanatical about keeping things tidy, but not so much into cleaning and has someone in to tackle that job for her. I’m wondering about your thoughts on hiring outside help for the inside; does it make you feel guilty or relieved? I’m hoping your answer is relieved! If you’re doing it yourself (and maybe complaining about it!) what’s holding you back?
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.