By Gabrielle. Images by Iris Thorsteinsdottir for Kid & Coe.
I’m fond of our home tours for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorites is that it gives me the chance to truly learn about living with kids in every corner of the world. Practical advice and personal experience from real families are the best, made even better with pictures and local accents! As I mentioned to Laura this week, you just never know where you’ll want to move your family tomorrow. Perhaps to Bristol? It sure sound lovely. (And then there is the matter of Banksy, graffiti artist extraordinaire! How cool would it be to casually name-drop him as your neighbor?) I know you’re going to adore Laura and the Hall home, and I’m also pretty sure you’re going to love the company she keeps, known as Kid & Coe, especially if you’ve got little ones and despise traveling with all the gear they seem to accumulate! Welcome, Laura!
Q: Tell us all about your sweet family living in the UK!
A: Four of us live here. I’m Laura, the Communications Manager of Kid & Coe, traveler, magpie, and generally creative person. I’m joined by my husband Matt, an IT risk consultant by day (yawn!) but a dastardly food blogger and inventive cook by night (yum!). There’s also our bumptious three year old daughter Olivia, who loves to sing and read, often at the same time, and our four-year-old cat Sukie, who I rescued when she was just five weeks old. She’s lovely but thinks she’s a human most of the time.
Q: How did this house become your home? (And please tell us what it’s like to buy or rent in Bristol…just in case any of us are interested!)
A: We love our home so much! We bought it four years ago after living in a hip city center apartment, because we wanted to be near a park and to have a family in a lovely area. I got pregnant within a month of moving in. I have so many friends on this street and the next who all have three year olds. Who knows what they’re putting in the water!
One of the best things in my life was getting pregnant while living here. We live on top of a hill, and one day I was puffing up it, heavily pregnant, when a lady opened her door and invited me in for tea. She had a bunch of other mums from the street having tea in her garden, and just like that I was invited into the Richmond Street mums club! It’s lovely, and I really like that the vibe is like that round here.
Renting and buying in the UK is a funny thing. The monthly outgoing is around the same, but these days you have to pay a 25% deposit to secure a home. As a result, many people can’t afford to buy unless they have a big savings or parents who can help. We were lucky and sold our old flat at the right time, having built up enough equity in it to afford the deposit on this house. It’s actually cheaper and easier in Bristol than in London; my twin brother (age 35) is still renting because property in London is so expensive!
Q: What makes you love Bristol, especially as it relates to living there with kids?
A: Bristol is a funny old place. It’s a little bit hippy, a little bit alternative, and really quite a small, village-y kind of city, if you know what I mean! It attracts small businesses, people who want to live a little differently, and people who are allergic to the corporate fast track. I think those of us who live in Bristol live life well. Maybe we all share a philosophy that life is for living, not working, most of the time.
We live here because I wanted to have easy access to London for work, but also easy access to the amazing counties of Devon, Somerset, and Cornwall which are easily the best bit of being in the UK. Oh, and Banksy comes from Bristol. That’s probably our biggest claim to fame!
Matt’s from the southwest of the UK, and it’s such an appealing part of the country: laid back, surfy, with the best weather we get over here. Moving away from the southwest would probably kill him, whereas I’ve lived in London, Oxford, Manchester, and Reykjavik, and would go back to a bigger city no problem. Sometimes the pace of life here drives me nuts.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since the arrival of your daughter? And do you see it changing more the older and more aware she grows?
A: I’m all about color. I love a color pop. My husband’s favorite color is orange, and I think that reflects his creativity as a whole. He’s always loved animation and little characters and seriously, none of that has changed since Olivia turned up. In fact, his cheery design aesthetic is a lot in line with a toddler’s! If anything, he’s turned that part of himself up a bit! I guess when Olivia grows up, she might see our taste and style as a bit juvenile, but I hope we keep playfulness at the heart of our home.
I also love things with a story. I am such a shopper, and I always try to bring something back from a trip that will remind me of it. We have posters from Copenhagen, bowls from Istanbul, cushions from Marrakech…the list goes on.
In my bedroom I have this carved wood jewelry box I brought back from India, and that really does have a story. Three years after I returned from the trip, I started hearing this strange jingling sound in the middle of the night. I couldn’t work out what it was. Eventually, we found this fine powder next to the jewelry box and discovered that there was something living in the box: a big white larva! It was eating away at the wood and would have turned into a moth. Apparently they’re quite common in India, but I never expected to pick up a hitchhiker like that!
I really love our dining room. It’s white with stripped floorboards and a pine table and cheap junk shop chairs spray-painted bright colors to make it look fun. People always comment on them – I got the idea from Elle Deco – and they were fun to do. I wanted to color code the bookshelves in the living room, too, which I saw in a cafe in Reykjavik, Iceland.
We consciously wanted to create a calming space for Olivia’s bedroom, and it’s become one of our favorite rooms. It’s all cream and pale with stripped floorboards; I guess it has a slight air of Scandinavia to it. I felt that this would work as she gets older, when she’ll want to put posters up and add something more dynamic. But while she’s little, I was really concerned that we needed to make her room somewhere she could sleep well. Sleep is the key to being a happy parent!
The more I travel, the more I pick up little ideas. I was in Copenhagen recently and decided that we absolutely have to get some better storage, so the house looks a little cleaner and less cluttered. Being in such an old house (it’s over 100 years old), there’s little storage and we really battle with finding places to put things away. Mostly we just hide toys under the sofa and overstock our cupboards. The biggest problem at the moment is that we’re saving tons of stuff in the event we have another baby; as soon as all those baby things in the closet can be given away, we’ll have a little more room to breathe!
Q: Your company, Kid & Coe, sounds genius. Tell us about it!
A: Kid & Coe is so great! I’m so excited to be working for this company. After years working as a travel writer and heading up family travel projects, I was approached last year to work for this New York based start-up. Our aim is to simplify family travel, and we do that by providing a network of stylish and family-friendly homes around the world available for rent.
As well as staying in a home perfect for children, guests get a personalized City Scout guide with the best advice on the local neighborhood, and select childcare essentials. I’ve found that when we travel, knowing where a great playground or park is sets the tone for our stay; it can be a godsend. I’ve been scouting in Copenhagen this month and found the most fantastic places to play – swimming pools in the harbor, playgrounds with slides in the shapes of parrots – and local knowledge helped us find them all. I’m excited to be able to share this kind of detail with other people.
We’ve got homes on our books in New York, London, Cornwall, Tel Aviv, France, Portugal, Italy, Mexico, and many more. And they’re all especially perfect for families with young children. It’s so great to be able to travel knowing that everything you need will be there, from high chairs and baby baths to cribs, and that you don’t have to lug tons of stuff along. It makes your trip more than a holiday; you have a chance to live like a local family.
We’re also really into the concept of collaborative consumption. If you’ve got something and you’re not using it, why not let someone else use it? So families can rent their own houses or vacation houses out on the site when they’re away, and make a little money for themselves at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.
Q: In your opinion, after collecting a lot of stylish homes for the Kid & Coe network, what seems to be the hallmark of a fantastic kid-friendly stylish home?
A: To me personally, it’s all about attitude. Anyone can stick a crib in a room and call it family friendly, but the best places I’ve seen all have a positive attitude towards kids.
It might be that they’ve got a hidden play space in the bedroom that only a small child can get into. They might have a great rope swing in the garden. It might just be a little bit of cool graffiti at child’s eye height, or a selection of unusual toys. I like seeing that an owner has thought about how to inject a bit of fun into their children’s lives. Isn’t that the best?!
Matt is always doing daft things like hiding toys on top of pictures, or putting a cling-on monkey in a plant to see if Olivia has spotted it. You know when you’re looking at a home like that, that they won’t mind if your toddler accidentally smears jam somewhere they shouldn’t.
Q: Where is your favorite space to spend time with your daughter in your own home? What makes it so special?
A: I love our garden. It’s teeny tiny, but we spend as much time out in it in the summer as we can, grabbing striped floor cushions for the decking, stringing a sail up to shade it from the sun, and hunting for tiny frogs and snails and worms. We used to have a little girl living next door who we talked to a lot over the fence, but she’s now moved.
And our garden has a World War II bomb shelter! It’s now a white building with lots of chalk drawings on it. I was bewitched by it when we came to view the house before we bought it. Just the thought of two people sitting in it in the gloomy dark as air raid sirens wailed and bombs fell all over the city. It’s dark and cold and a bit slimy and they must have been so scared. These days, we put our gardening equipment and barbecue in it, and our cat camps out on the roof, so it’s had a radical change of purpose! I wanted to turn it into a home office but it’s too difficult to do, unfortunately. We may end up putting a wildflower roof on top of it.
Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers most from this home? How intentional are you in decorating with her and her future memories in mind?
A: Such a lovely question! I really just hope that she feels happy and secure here, and that she’s comfortable in the neighborhood. Growing up, my family moved around a lot and we didn’t know our neighbors that well, so I really love the fact that on our street, we know nearly everyone. A neighbor and I arrange a street party every year so we all have the opportunity to eat cake and drink tea together – very English! – and Olivia has so many friends up and down the street that it’s delightful.
As for future decorating, she’s a little too small to help right now, but she does choose things for her room. We were just in Copenhagen and she chose a little blue elephant money bank which looks really sweet on the shelf. She’s already got my collection of Japanese dolls in her room, and we’ll help her update that when her tastes change. In the future, we hope to have another child. Since it’s a two-bedroomed house, we’ll either have to move or be very creative with the space. I can see a scenario where Olivia and her sibling share the master bedroom while we take her bedroom, just for space reasons.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? Has motherhood surprised you? What is the one thing you will miss the most from this time in your daughter’s life?
A: Oh those lovely chubby baby cheeks! I miss them already! A friend told me that when they’re little, you’re all ‘Come on! Walk and talk already!’ but when they start doing it, all you do is tell them to sit down and be quiet. That’s so true! I was too hasty for her to grow up and I miss the baby days.
I love living with my little girl. My favorite thing is when she comes in from childcare and has a new song to share with me. I cycle round the city with her on my bike a fair bit, and to hear her sing The Teddy Bear’s Picnic from the back of my bike is the greatest thing!
Motherhood, though…that’s hit me like a double decker bus. I feel like I had to remake myself completely. I found it so hard in the early days. I feel that motherhood, in the early days, is like a long stretch of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme stress. These days, we have it sorted a little better; it’s less stressful and less boring, and there are some moments of pure joy amid all the juggling, washing, cooking, and working Getting through the day with just some of the tasks on my to do list ticked off is a real achievement, whereas before I wouldn’t be happy unless everything was done! Life just has so many loose ends these days!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: …that it’s okay to ask for help. I really struggle with asking for help, but when I broke my ankle a couple of months ago, I had no other options. I had to ask friends to drive Olivia to childcare in the mornings, and to pick her up as i couldn’t walk or drive. I had to ask my mum to stay for a week, I booked an extra nanny, and I generally spent my time feeling guilty about it all. I have such wonderful friends and such great support that I really should relax about it! But as a control freak, I find it really hard to delegate responsibility to other people when I feel it should be my job. I think someone needs to keep telling me that it’s okay to ask other people to help, actually!
Two things. One, collaborative consumption is now one of my favorite terms. And then there’s this: “Anyone can stick a crib in a room and call it family friendly, but the best places I’ve seen all have a positive attitude towards kids.” Laura, I love the way you think. Did I say two? I meant three. Because she has a bomb shelter turned shed in her back garden! Talk about perspective. Thank you for it all, Laura!
Friends, would you ever give up your master bedroom as a way to make room for more children? I’d love to hear about it if you did!