Designing A Southern Hemisphere Home In Northern England

I've spent the past 18 months blogging about our Victorian-house-in-a-leafy-south-Manchester-suburb - sharing pictures of the various rooms and the garden, describing our renovation work to date, sharing our plans for a future kitchen/diner extension - but what I've never written about is why.

Not why I blog (that's easy - I blog to record our DIY journey and engage with a community of like-minded renovators, DIY and design enthusiasts, and crafters) - but why buy nearly 3000 square feet of dilapidated Victorian villa that will take so long to renovate that in the meantime you have to live for years with a bedroom that looks like this? Does one family really need that much space? Is it actually necessary to have a second-hand furniture store in your cellar? A garden so jungly that after living there for well over a year you discover a Victorian wall at the back of the garden that you didn't even realise was there?

Well, no. Of course it isn't. Before we moved here, we lived in a small but perfectly formed teeny tiny two-up-two-down on the other side of Wilmslow Road, and we loved it. Tons of families have children sharing a bedroom (in fact, we're hoping that our girls will want to share at some stage in future because that would be really cute) so we didn't need to move to get more space. So why, then? Why take on this monolithic beast of a four-storey money-pit? (We're renovating it ourselves, but plaster, paint and power tools still take up a fair amount of pennies.)

For us, it's simple. We're a multi-cultural family. I'm English, Andre is Portuguese, and was born and raised in South Africa. Our girls are half English, half Portuguese. Our dogs are confused about their nationality, but fortunately the Jack Russell yap is the same in every language. And we live a southern hemisphere lifestyle - so we need a house that enables us to live that lifestyle.

Life in South Africa is obviously very different in a huge number of ways from life in the UK. One of the differences - and this is something that Andre found really surprising when he first moved here over ten years ago - is that English culture is pretty much about going out. Usually for a drink, in fairness - a swift half over lunch hour, a quick pint or two after work, last orders at the local before closing time - but also for Sunday pub lunches, breakfast in the greasy spoon or trendy deli around the corner, or dinner in one of the millions of fantastic restaurants and eateries that can be found in every city, town and village centre across the country.

Life in Johannesburg isn't really like that. While the central parts of the city have plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars, there are far fewer facilities out in the suburbs where most people live. If you want to go out for a meal, you need to drive (public transport, at least at the time Andre lived there, is practically non-existent, extraordinary as that seems to this English girl). If you want to go to a nightclub, it's normal to pile into someone's car and drive for several hours (kind of the equivalent of a bunch of Mancs casually driving to London and back for a night out).

So, many people in Jo'burg (I'm talking about the Portuguese and similar communities here, of course) stay in. Houses have swimming pools, huge gardens, an outdoor bar, an indoor bar, a pool table - why go out when you have to drive, not drink, and pay lots of money, when you can just relax at home? There's a massive culture of having your friends and family over for long lunches, braais, pool parties, or just sitting around drinking on hot summer evenings.

And that's the kind of lifestyle we live over here. That's the kind of lifestyle we're creating for our daughters to grow up in.

Of course, we want a balance. We've chosen to live in the M20 postcode packed with more delis, cocktail bars and quirky restaurants than you can shake a stick at, although quite why you'd want to shake a stick at The Rose Garden rather than just go inside and enjoy one of the finest dining experiences in Manchester (despite what the Guardian may think), I'm not entirely sure. And over the years we've spent a very respectable amount of time lounging around in a wide variety of these establishments drinking coffees and cocktails.

But we've always enjoyed spending time at home in our own little oasis - cooking lobster thermidor or steak dinners for friends, even though it meant rearranging all the living room furniture to fit everyone around our tiny dining table - eating outdoors in all weathers, including winter braais under the warmth of an infrared parasol heater, and candlelit feasts at midnight with sausages and champagne - heck, we even held our wedding reception at our house, after finding a marquee company who were willing to erect a roof over the entire garden, shed, trees and all (although we weren't *quite* able to follow the Portuguese wedding tradition of inviting 400 guests - really! - and encouraging them to bring their friends and family, too).

Moving to our new house, however, has really allowed us to take what we call the southern hemisphere lifestyle to another level. We can finally have an actual family dining table for breakfasts, suppers and birthday party toddler brunches.

We've created (what we feel are) beautiful bedrooms for each of our daughters, which have already become places where they like to hang out during the day and are perfectly happy playing in for hours (rather than pestering me to "go out" all the time, hurrah!) - Eva building dens with her blankets, chairs and table, and Natalia emptying the contents of her chest of drawers and bashing toys against her newly painted turquoise walls. We have a spare bedroom (the novelty!) which means our family and visiting friends can actually stay in our house rather than in a nearby hotel (as was necessary at our old house), and I can do things like put tea bags and mugs and flowers and chocolate snacks in the room like a proper hostessy type person.

And of course we're designing a new layout for the ground floor and garden - not with a swimming pool (it's Manchester, c'mon!), but with space for eating indoors, and space for eating outdoors, and space for three ovens and two dishwashers (we love to cook, and we do not love to wash up), and a playroom/family room for the kids, and a fun child-friendly garden for hide and seek, climbing and trampolining.

When we first started house-hunting, I looked at literally hundreds of houses. Many were ruled out online, others were ruled out following drive-bys that revealed they were at the wrong end of the street, or had north-facing gardens (my personal deal-breaker). The estate agent actually had to talk me into viewing this house, because I was set on living on a very specific part of M20. So I went there reluctantly, expecting to be underwhelmed - and I saw the height of the ceilings. And I saw the original stained glass and moulded cornices. And I saw where we'd knock through and install our giant reclaimed wood dining table. And I saw the huge bay windows. And through the huge bay windows I saw a garden that seemed to go on and on. And I knew, instantly, that my little English-Portuguese-South African family had come home.

I've written this post as part of the local BlogGirls link-up on Multicultural Families. Check out the other posts here, or visit the participating (and excellent!) blogs: AtoZ Mummy, Expression & Confession, Hodge Podge Days and We3Three.