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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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Wednesday
Oct152014

Let There Be Light

We try and tackle at least one house-related task each week. Last weekend, in between attending three fantastic kids' birthday parties, we exchanged stern words with the rogue wisteria out the back.

When we first moved in, this was the view from the back door. 

Not so pretty; but in early summer when the wisteria comes into bloom? A different story.

A couple of years of neglect later, and we appear to have created a delightfully dank cave-like space with a hazardously sagging wooden pergola thingie that had to be propped up with the giant tube containing the 5m window cleaning device that Andre (fortuitously, as it turned out) insisted on buying recently. 

We intended just to give it a quick trim to relieve some of the pressure on the close-to-collapsing-but-not-so-close-that-we-can-be-bothered-to-fix-it frame, but even after taking off loads it wasn't enough, so we ended up chopping off the whole lot.

Wisteria grows like a virus so we're not unduly concerned about its prospects, and it's so much lighter out the back, even though our neighbour questioned mildly how long he would have to look at the newly-revealed shanty town-like structure. Not too long, we hope! The structural drawings are near completion, the schedule of works has been drafted, and we're just about ready to go out to tender for the building work that will hopefully be ready to start demolishing said shanty town-like structure, along with half the ground floor, early next year.

The next project? Stripping the front door. I've done the first coat of Homestrip and there only appear to be about three layers of paint which I assume means it's not the original door, unless some other poor sod had a crack at it before we moved in. We also have to shift about three cubic tonnes of newly delivered wood chip to the play area at the end of the garden, oh joy...

Saturday
Oct042014

How To Paint A Chair (and Have it All)

I recently read a blog post that really annoyed me (isn't the internet wonderful? Instant access to lots of things to find annoying) titled something like "Why I don't want to have it all". It was written by a woman, who was also a parent, and in the first paragraph made the point that even when both parents work, it's the woman who spends her time juggling work and parenting because motherhood is a state of mind rather than the switch on, switch off mode that working dads adopt. For real? People actually think this way? Is this the world I'm raising my girls in?

The final paragraph concluded that the author was content not to have it all, having given up her job to enable her partner to work longer hours. Fair play for having achieved a state of peace in a way that works for her and her family, but speaking personally, I like to think (hope?) that I can find a way to have it all.

As a full-time parent who works full-time and is also renovating a house and aspires to be a half-decent partner and friend into the bargain, I do spend a reasonable amount of time juggling things around. As does Andre, funnily enough, who also happens to be a full-time parent who works full-time. About this time last year I wrote a post about renovating with small children, where I described our normal routine and how we achieve a balance between taking care of the kids and plastering the walls. That was while I was on maternity leave, and had time to chuck a load of washing into the tumble dryer during the day or do a spot of painting while the kids busied themselves smearing playdoh into the gaps between the (beautifully hand-sanded and oiled) floorboards.

Things are very different now I'm back at work and we have to fit all the housework, cooking and errands along with renovation and occasionally relaxation into a short 20:00-22:00 daily window plus some weekend time. We're still busy renovating - it's just that everything takes a lot longer to accomplish.

Take this chair, which according to the dates of the photograph, was hauled outside and primed back in April, only to be abandoned in the playroom half finished for six months until I finally finished it with a coat or seven of bright yellow paint a couple of weekends ago.

As usual we found it in the cellar when we moved in, along with a matching partner. Waste not, want not; I'm collecting mis-matched chairs for my grand dining table scheme, so decided to sand and oil the wood of one and add a new fabric seat pad, and keep the original battered leather of the other but paint it a bright colour. 

From this:

To this:

It actually looked OK before, but I have no room at my imaginary dining table for two identical (and identically shabby) scratched wooden chairs with partially disintegrating seat pads, and I like the combination of the slick modern yellow with the old battered leather.

While I was painting numerous layers of yellow onto the chair and trying to keep an eye on the kids at the same time, Enrique generously managed to knock the tub of paint over, run through it several times, bound across the patio and through the gate, jump on Penny, run back across the patio several times and then BURST THROUGH THE FENCE INTO THE NEIGHBOURS' GARDEN. Bearing in mind that we've lived here for nearly three years and neither dog has ever tried to break through the fence until this very moment, it was fairly special timing. 

So it turns out you can have it all. You can work full-time and be a full-time parent (because oddly enough I don't stop being a parent when I arrive at the office) and still find the time to upcycle random pieces of furniture. It's just that it may take you six months to finish one chair because you can't have it all at the same time, and having it all may include having to scrub all twenty million yellow paw prints from the patio, and your other Jack Russell may just have to live with yellow paw marks on her back until they wear off because you can't be bothered with the effort of washing it off when all you really want to do is collapse on the sofa and have all the wine.

Next project - the fitted wardrobe in our bedroom.

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Wednesday
Sep242014

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 :-)

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