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Thanks for visting Simply The Nest. I'm an English girl married to an Portuguese boy, and when I'm not taking care of our two adorable daughters, I blog about our house renovation, DIY projects, delicious recipes, inspirational interiors, and family life in a Victorian Manchester nest.

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Monday
Sep152014

Our Kitchen Design

I've been giving our kitchen design some thought. Nearly three years' worth of thought, to be honest, as I toil away preparing meals in our hideous kitchen-in-bay-window with our too-small-to-fit-a-turkey-in oven and god-only-knows-what's-lurking-behind-the-stove cooker.

Kitchen design has moved on a long way since the basic concept of the work triangle. As the loving possessor of a work triangle that involves leaving the room, entering a foyer, and entering second room to access the fridge I'm a big fan of the good ol' traditional work triangle, but there are plenty of other things to think about. Kitchens are not just spaces for preparing meals - they're also places to quickly make a brew or some toast, social areas where people want to sit and chat, or children might want to do some light homework or help prepare a meal. They're often the place where the post ends up, and the soft play party invitations and school reminders like to hang out. In short, we all know that the kitchen is the hub of the house, but often the design only looks at the work triangle and perhaps the storage, but little else.

For example - it's no use having a great work triangle if everyone has to cut through it to get to the kettle or the fridge with the snacks and cold water. Ideally you need a coffee, tea and even breakfast making station that's separate to the main cooking area. And think about where the kids will play in relation to the stove top - I saw a kitchen recently where the children had to pass through a small gap between the hob on one side and the island on the other to get to the back door, meaning hot pans of sizzling oil were seriously hazardous.

If you want people to sit at the island, where are the stools going to do? Are they likely to end up tangled with the legs of the dining room table a metre away? Where will the plates go when you're ready to plate up for ten people? And where will the dirty dishes go if your kitchen is open to the dining table and you don't want to sit and look at them while you're eating your homemade lasagne?

And my absolute favourite requirement, which so, so, so many kitchens get wrong - how do you move seamlessly from vegetable washing to chopping to cooking to removing hot dishes from the stove and putting them somewhere sensible that doesn't involve carrying pans of hot food across the room? Is your sink on the same work surface as your prep area, or will you have to chuck a pile of sodden vegetables across the floor to your chopping board? (Reference - our old kitchen, which like an idiot I actually designed this way.) And do you actually have any space to chop carrots and throw flour around in, or are you crammed up against the toaster, not because you don't have the space, but because the space isn't well designed?

Most right-handed people work from left to right. Wash veg, move to right, chop veg, move to right, cook veg. I certainly do. So the requirement to have a stretch of unit connecting sink to prep area to hob with the prep area being as large and empty as possible was hugely important for me.

I dug out the kitchen wish list I wrote a year ago (what?! where has the time gone?). It largely still stands, which is good to know - I've edited with strikeout to show the changes.



  • Drawers rather than cupboards - we had these in our beloved scarlet red gloss kitchen in our first house and they were fantastic. We even had a drawer under the sink for all our cleaning products.

  • Laundry basket for all the filthy towels and baby bibs we seem to accumulate on a daily basis.

  • Conversely, somewhere to store clean towels and tea towels and bibs.

  • Drawer in the kitchen island to be used for storing random crap and sweeping contents of island into it in order to tidy up quickly. Apparently this is often called a man drawer, but in the interests of gender equality I'm going to call it the random crap drawer.

  • Filing cabinet and shredder - this may sound like an odd thing to have in the kitchen, but we end up with paperwork hanging round in the kitchen for days before it gets taken upstairs and either filed or shredded - it would be much more efficient to deal with it immediately.

  • A floor that won't smash everything that gets dropped on it (so no tiles, stone or slate). Tiled floor as there basically aren't any other viable options apart from rubber (which apparently scuffs badly and only comes in solid colours that will show up every dog hair) or wood (absurd choice for a kitchen unless you plan on having a dishwasher or taps that never ever leak). Anything in a pale colour or with pale grout is also off the list thanks to our mud-lovin' dogs. If it's cold underfoot, we'll also need underfloor heating.

  • A dedicated cupboard for all the recycling.

  • Kitchen bin in cupboard - maybe the kind where the lid opens automatically when you open the cupboard door? We also need to make sure that if we have underfloor heating, we don't extend it underneath where the bins will be located...

  • I like the idea of having some kind of small round hole (with a lid) in the kitchen island with the green recycling container below, so vegetable scraps can be swept directly into it from the worktop.

  • Induction hob with flexinduction zone. After years of cooking only with gas, I'm planning to be converted to the 30 second pan boil.

  • Ideally a French-door style fridge-freezer. It doesn't need to include a water and ice unit (which take up valuable space inside) because we also plan to include...

  • ... A separate cold filtered water tap that isn't located within the main work triangle.

  • Pop-up sockets in kitchen island with USB port.

  • Two dishwashers!

  • Various places for storing oddly sized things like tall cereal boxes, baking trays, cookery books, and long rolls of tin foil and clingfilm.

  • An extractor fan with an external motor so it won't be noisy in the open plan area.

  • Plate warming drawer.

  • Pull-out sprayer attachment on the kitchen tap for rinsing things off more easily.

  • Belfast sink.

  • 90cm integrated oven.

  • Separate 60cm integrated oven.

  • Countertop combination microwave (yikes, have you seen how much an integrated version costs? No thanks!). Upgrading to an integrated microwave to free up counter-top space.

  • Worktops at a comfortable height so you don't have to stoop over.

  • Tall larder cupboard with individual pullout shelves (rather than one single pullout unit)

  • Wire basket storage for potatoes and other vegetables.



So, how will this all fit together in real life? Hold onto your seats, because boom! Here comes the design...







Check out that prep area - nearly 3.5 metres of glorious unbridled worktop between the sink and the hob. The lightbulb moment with the design came when I realised I could move the sink - which had originally been under the window in the centre of the U - to the left-hand side. I can see why putting the sink under the window might make sense for reasons relating to symmetry and having a nice view when donning one's marigolds, but for the way we both cook it makes so much more sense to have it over on the left.

Some of the lengths are flexible - for example, we may reduce the size of the fridge-freezer (we've got another one in the cellar so don't need a massive one in the main kitchen) and also the larder next door in order to create a slightly larger space on the left of the sink. Currently there's 60cm there as we've got a tower of 60cm ovens on top of a 90cm undercounter range oven. We don't do a whole lot of washing up (*cough* two dishwashers *cough*, and what we do wash up by hand tends to get dried and put away immediately, but I think a slightly larger space for a small drainer - say 90cm - would be useful.

We've got a second dishwasher in the utility area to deal with the "we've had two families of four over for tea and there is no way this frankly extraordinary number of bowls and spoons is going to fit in one dishwasher" problem. I know it's extravagant but what the hell. It also means we can chuck the dirty cooking pans into this area and close the door on it if there isn't time to clean up before eating (we're mostly tidy-up-as-you-go-along cooks but sometimes this goes awry).

What else? Another dishwasher under the prep area so we can chuck the items we've used to prepare the meal into it straight away. No problem with people wanting to access it to put a glass inside when I'm busy cooking as they can just use the other one. I love U-shaped kitchens because you have the opportunity to create a little cooking domain. And by placing the fridge on the left at the start of the worktop run, people have no reason to enter the main prep area because the snacks and cold water are located at the other end of the room. We'll probably put the kettle, toaster and Gaggia in the utility area for the same reason.

OK. That's three years' worth of kitchen-related thoughts on a page. Go on, tell me what I've missed before we get the builders in to start knocking walls down :-)

Monday
Sep152014

Bringing Up Children In The City

A while ago, we made the decision to bring our children up in the city. I had a glorious traditionally English childhood - house backing onto open countryside, short walk through the village centre to the local primary school (home for lunch and then back again in the afternoon), a view from my bedroom window of a medieval castle and moat, and carol-singing round the Buttercross on Christmas Eve every year.

So there's no reason really why I'm resolutely an urban girl, but from the moment I stepped out of the train at Newscastle Central Station nearly half my life ago (what?!) on a day trip to visit my prospective university, and caught the smell of the Tyne and heard the sound of the taxis idling and saw the palimpsest of Victorian and modern architecture against the skyline and the leftover remains of someone's last-night pizza on the floor, I've wanted to live in the city and that's exactly what I've done. Four years in Newcastle followed by thirteen in Manchester, which I moved to after completing my post-graduate degree because one of my friends described in as "a big, dirty exciting city". 

Well, Manchester is exactly that. As much as the next person, I love going on holiday and enjoying a serene view of the lakes, the mountains, the Greek seashore, the rolling Tuscan hills and whatnot, but I'm happy to get back to my little part of M20 with a view of the neighbour's house opposite and the sound of cars and lawn mowers coming through the window. We used to live in the Northern Quarter, and I still enjoy wandering round there during the daytime, seeing all the old buildings, the art, the grafitti, the cars, the smell of exhausts and curries and cigarette smoke and just the general throb of humanity. 

When we bought this house, there was no real question for either of us of selling up in a few years and moving out to Sale, or Altrincham, or Wilmslow, or Marple, or Disley - all lovely I'm sure, but here we're four miles or fifteen minutes out of the city centre and I never want to give that up. (Our neighbours insist that this makes us urban rather than suburban and I agree.) So this is our forever house and in ten years of so the girls will be sneaking out to try and get served in the Met, I'm sure. 

Still, there has to be a balance. I couldn't do the New York family baby-in-a-closet thing - the kids need a bedroom each, we need plenty of space to leave all our crap lying around, the dogs need a decent flight of stairs and hallway to charge down every time the doorbell rings so they can build up sufficient speed to properly hurl themselves at the front door, and we need a nice big garden with enough space to install giant trampolines and climbing frames.

Which is exactly what we did this weekend, with the help of six children (including next door's kids, who climbed over the fence with a toolbox and a homemade pavlova) and three adults (who contributed beer and burgers to the cause). The instructions said it would take two adults ten hours - "it won't take that long!" said Andre. On yes it did, longer in fact, but the instructions were as unintelligible as these kind of instructions usually are, I insisted on labelling each lag screw and hex bolt so we didn't lose any of them, and we stopped for plenty of espresso breaks, trampoline bouncing sessions and Jack Russell ball throwing interludes. 

We did have a think about building one ourselves from scratch, but by the time you've bought the wood, fixings, stain, slide and swings the cost is basically the same as buying one and assembling it, so that's what we did. Eva thinks it's a tree house because we've deliberately built it around the existing buddleia and acers and when you're up in the crow's nest you feel completely surrounded by leaves and greenery. We'll also be installing a raised platform around the main acer with a walkway or monkey bars to connect back to the climbing frame, so the whole thing will hopefully feel very organically at one with the garden.

Here's how wild the garden was when we first moved in:

After a weekend of ivy-taming last summer:

Clearing and levelling the ground (which involved digging up five enormous decorative tree stumps):

Ta da!

A team of willing under-age workers and an idiot posing:

And a view of the whole garden from the steps. 

The neighbour's kids say it's better than theirs and we haven't even pimped it up with the matching periscope, telephone, telescope and chalk board yet so I'm calling it a WIN.

Next outdoor project - chuck down a load of forest park with a tree stump border to enclose the play area, and add a stone circle patio where the pond used to be.

Friday
Sep122014

Summer And Thoughts On The Decline Of Blogging

Whoosh! And that was the noise of the summer rushing past in a blur of ice cream, prosecco and braai food, all fragranced with the delectable aroma of Boots Soltan lotion. How did it get to be September so quickly? We're definitely a summer family - I just don't get the allure of the nights drawing in, wearing snuggly jumpers and curling up on the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa or whatever. Why would anyone sensible want to do that when you could be sitting outside in your back garden at 10pm drinking a glass of cold rose and enjoying the balmy night air?

I also can't believe that I haven't written a blog post since June. Every week I kept thinking, oh, I really need to share photos of the bedroom (it's now white! and beautiful!) but that would have involved finding my camera, finding my tripod, taking a bunch of pictures, setting up the PC which had been abandoned on the floor of the spare bedroom while we renovated the master bedroom, downloading the photos, editing them, adding my watermark - and that's before I'd even written a word and it all just felt too much like hard work so I just poured another glass of prosecco and wandered outside with it instead.

Blogging has changed, hasn't it? I've been blogging for years, at least five of them, back when YHL were posting about buying budget blooms from the local shop and it was charming and authentic. These days it's all Pinterest-friendly DIYs where you can't just post the DIY, heaven forfend, you have to have a pin-friendly image of the DIY with your logo and some descriptive text laid over it, and there are so many sponsored posts that aren't marked as sponsored posts but you know two sentences in that you're reading yet another sodding post about the Honest Company or Blue Apron but the blogger won't bother to tell you it's sponsored until you get to the end even though the rules say that's not allowed (kudos to Katie Bower, she seems a tad on the crazy side but she's totally transparent about her sponsored posts). It wasn't hard to see the YHL sabbatical coming because the blog's been unfortunately spiralling downwards for months, and the ironic thing of course is that if I were to click over and see a post about budget blooms I'd click straight off again on the grounds that this is your job and I want to see more than some sodding flowers in a vase, you know?

Personally I think it's the trend for making money from blogging that's sending the whole thing into a decline. Two of my favourite bloggers - Natalie from Hey Natalie Jean, who I read because her life is so utterly different to mine and her posts are an unabashed stream of fairly bonkers consciousness, and Andrea from For The Love Of, who lives in California and posts about clean eating (what?) and weird recipes with foods I've never heard of that I wouldn't even know where to buy in the UK and recently posted a DIY necklace that basically looked like a giant fake beard which was accidentally hilarious - have recently posted about how they took on too many sponsored posts, found they didn't want to do them anymore, are finishing off the ones they've been contracted to do, and will be returning to blogging because they love writing, not to get page views. You go, ladies.

We don't all have to make money from blogging, right? I mean, if you want to, then by all means crack on, and there are a very few blogs out there that do it really well, but personally I just can't be freaking bothered, you know? I've done a few sponsored posts here and there in the past but now I'm working full-time and there are just not enough hours in the day to be sodding around with sponsored posts when I don't even have time to write the posts that are the main reason why I started this blog in the first place, namely as a diary of our house renovations.

Also, about six months ago the stats functionality on my Squarespace app stopped working so I couldn't check my page views without going to my actual website. Back in March I was getting around 25,000 page views a month, which considering I have never used after the jumps to increase clicks, and have a punishing schedule of approximately one post a month, was probably a fairly healthy number of page views. Now? I have no clue. A lot less than that, I imagine. And you know what happened as a result? Nothing! No personal impact to me whatsoever! I'd actually kind of forgotten that people read this at all until a nice reader called Anna left a comment enquiring where I was and that kind of reminded me that I do have a blog, and like posting on it, so thank you Anna for bringing that to my attention.

Soooo, this is not a long-winded way of saying I'm through with blogging, far from it, but I do wish I had a way of magicking out of thin air the couple of extra hours I would need each week to write a post (that given the choice I would actually rather use to make curtains or sand floors or paint furniture or generally have a little lie down to recover from the overly large amounts of champagne I drank - how fancy am I, right? - at a work event last night).

If anyone feels similarly about blogging, and has any thoughts on what the future holds given that even the mighty YHL have been felled by the monotony of having become a brand, do share them. Or maybe I'm just a crazy lady ranting gently away to myself on a Friday night while eating the hula hoops we bought for the kids, who knows.

Anyway, one thing we did this summer was go to Germany to see our lovely German friends who live in a little town between Berlin and Leipzig, bask in 35 degree sunshine and eat weird German food. Baked camembert for lunch? Don't mind if I do. Served with sour berries, slices of tinned peach, dry triangles of toast and... wait for it... a giant dollop of whipped cream? Pretty freaking weird, but I ate it anyway because it turns out that if my favourite thing to dip into a baked camembert is strips of brie (true story), then my second favourite thing might be whipped cream and hey, who needs to fit into their work trousers upon returning home to the UK, right?

Pretty German houses:

My delight at realising that an Eis-Cafe was not the frappuccino I was expecting, but instead was a cold latte with a generous amount of ice cream wedged into the glass:

A standard German kids' meal with Haribo on the side:

And a small pink lady paddling in the local lake:

Our friends had just finished building their house (this is a normal thing in German, sensible nation that they are; to buy land and build a brand shiny new house on it, rather than invest in a draughty old money-pit and spend hours lovingly scraping lead paint off the stairs) and it was just so nice to spend time somewhere with lovely new bathrooms and a proper kitchen with an island and an induction hob and a table for the kids to sit at.

We've come home renewed with vigour to get cracking with our extension - ideally early next year, assuming we can get a suitable builder booked in. I've even been ordering catalogues for tiles and whatnot. Maybe I should just try doing short posts saying hey, what do you think of these tiles with this worktop? which is basically the kind of thinking that flows through my brain these days.

Hope you've had a lovely summer too. I'm off to finish the prosecco.

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