A kitchen without a window

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I wish I had a kitchen window.

I’d do the dishes and they wouldn’t even feel like a chore with the sun slanting in. I’d keep one eye on the kids up to mischief in the garden, instead of half-dreading what sort of mud-filled situation I might find them in once I emerge from where the kitchen is, down in the basement. If I had that window, I’d sure as rain take my time, sip my tea, maybe even water a planter of herbs that might sit there right on my sill, alive, in the glory that is natural daylight.

Alas; I do not have a kitchen window.

I have an off-kilter skylight which filters light cleverly down the stairwell and just about spreads it into our below-ground basement kitchen but it’s not at all the same. Kitchen windows seem to be a curse that follows me around. One time, when I lived alone in, my kitchen was literally an alcove (no window here either). As newlyweds, we did indeed acquire a kitchen window only this one looked out over the ugly construction sites of King’s Cross (one of the first things I did, then, was to put up window film).

I have written about our small, 70 square foot kitchen before mostly because it is both curiously and delightfully different (a little rabbit’s hole of a space below stairs) but also because it is a challenge to me most days. There are steep, angular stairs to brave, while carrying trays laden with little people’s dinners up to our dining table. There’s the problem of our incredibly tiny fridge which at full capacity, has strawberries and blueberries rolling right out of it like overflowing marbles. There’s the larder, into which you have to side-step to see anything at all. It’s a tricksy little space.

I have learnt, however, that while it is a pleasant distraction, there is little purpose in daydreaming about bigger, light-filled kitchen spaces as seen in magazines or moodboarded all over the place. So instead, I turn to like-for-like and look for practical ways to make the most of our dark little space. I find this way of thinking immensely useful; it serves to make the most of what we have instead of hankering over something imaginary. It’s a way of thinking that may even extend beyond comparing kitchens. I am reminded that while our kitchen is tiny, it somehow has just the right space for what we need. This too, a note to self: more only begets more.

My kitchen does not let me down aesthetically. A scheme of white, wood and little flashes of copper, it is to my taste for we were fortunate enough to replace it when we first moved in. But there were a few little things I had not thought of yet and would like to include, the most pleasing of all being the idea of adding a mirror into this windowless room. A mirror, in a kitchen; I sort of like the exuberance of it.

It helps that I have just the thing already; a bevelled, angular mirror hanging from a chain which we bought as newly-weds from a vintage market in Camden Passage. This mirror has been passed around from room to room, but had not yet found a place in our home. It is one of the few pieces that I have kept, wrapped up carefully in my wardrobe, wishing I wouldn’t have to let it go. It makes sense to me, now, to hang it in the kitchen and I only wonder why I never thought of it before.

Also in the spirit of an on-going spring clean, I am finding small and simple ways to freshen the kitchen up. A basket of bright tough-skinned lemons sits atop the counter, to descale the kettle and scrub the sink (and also, for this sort of thing). A few drops of eucalyptus oil clear out the drain. We’ve been juicing big, fat oranges rather a lot lately, and that sweet smell alone brings the sunshine in. Elsewhere, a dredger of baking soda and lavender oil keeps our fridge fresh. Last summer, while on holiday in a sleepy village on the Danish coast, I brought home kitchen linens from an architect’s home-turned-museum at the bottom of our lane and I hope to add a few more too to this collection, the sort I would not mind to fold over the oven door (which also reminds me, it’s been four years since we’ve lived here and we still don’t have oven gloves). A few rounds of clumsiness and several broken mugs and plates later, there are gaps in our crockery that shall slowly be refilled. These are on my mind.

With all of this to think about, I suppose that I should count myself lucky, then, that I don’t even have a water-stained window behind the sink demanding, of all things, to be cleaned.

ps it perhaps goes without saying that the photo up above of our nook of kitchen shelves is completely un-styled. The motley crew of our everyday.


On Spring Cleaning

A dream kitchen nevertheless

Speckled plates

Flecked cups

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

There's a magical moment that comes every day, around 7pm, when all my children are in bed and I step down the hallway, alone for the first time since morning, and tread lightly down the stairs so as not to stir any little boys that are not yet in a deep sleep. I pass into our lounge and there I sit in silence, waiting to make sure they are asleep, listening for shuffles and mumbles and those little sighs. While I wait, evening shadows pass like clouds over the wall and the sky shifts across the skylight, the light softer and gentler now. 

The last thing I want to do in this magical moment is be on my hands and knees, picking up building blocks and tidying toys away. And so in a roundabout way, I don't, because I've taken steps to keep that at bay.

After years of neglecting my own well-being for the sake of bylines and deadlines, I have come to value clarity and calmness and being kinder to myself. This is what I want our home to feel like - calm, uncluttered, loving and warm - and I try to infuse these feelings into our home because as a family, an immediate sense of calm grounds us and helps us be kinder to each other too.

Simple holidays and tips for finding somewhere lovely to stay

Simple holidays and tips for finding somewhere lovely to stay

When I was little, holidays with my parents were full on, jam-packed and whirlwind. We did all the touristy stuff, where ever we were, walking across big cities, spending hours inside museums and stopping outside every monument for photographs. While I'm so grateful to them for all we saw and did, I wouldn't describe the holidays I remember as restful. We'd be woken up first thing, dressed and ready to fill our plates at breakfast buffets that started with the sun, and then we'd be out the door, all day on our feet. Not for us holiday lie-ins. Not for us lazy beach vacations of doing nothing.

The places we stayed in, hotels and apartments, were simply sidebars, incidental practicalities. Just beds for the night. There was no need for them to be pretty - though they had to be clean and tidy - because we would hardly be there at all. Besides, holidays were (still are) expensive as a family of five. I know that now too.

These were the eighties and the nineties. The days when a travel agent would point at tiny pictures of hotels in brochures for customers to choose from. You hardly had the option of selecting your preferred holiday accommodation based on its interior style. I get why my parents prioritised holidays as being about places to visit and see and take in the noise and culture of a place and not about the accommodation. I guess that's just what most people did, and still do, even though it's so much easier to find so many different kinds of places to stay in now.

Later, as a young 20-something journalist, I used to get invited on press trips. Sometimes, I was put up in suites bigger than my first flat, suites that took up entire floors of whichever luxury hotel I had been sent to. I had never, ever stayed in hotels like this before, where people offered me whatever I wanted to eat, where I had a sauna in the middle of my room or a huge four poster bed or a direct lift straight down to the swimming pool. I'd arrive and text photos to my mother followed by exclamation marks. I couldn't believe my luck. Although now I look back with cynicism at the wasteful way in which this world used to work, at the time I felt dizzy, a little like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada. But once the gloss had worn off, I realised how I really didn't like staying in these big, showy places at all. I'm not really a hotel or resort-kind-of-girl. I find them claustrophobic, unreal, stark and not at all cosy or restful.