Furnishing a nursery, the shambolic way.

There are plenty of things to feel guilty about as a parent – too much screen time, not enough fresh air, distracted multi-tasking parents leaving toddlers to their own devices, the list goes on – but one thing I can’t bring myself to feel ‘guilty’ about is the rather chaotic state of my daughter’s bedroom.

It is, of course, no concern of hers that none of the furniture matches and the curtains and carpet have seen better days – as long as she has a comfy bed in a snug, secure, well-ventilated room with all her toys around her, what does she care?

I will, however, admit to feeling a bit ashamed that her room is such a mish-mash of styles and inadequate storage. We haven’t done anything with any of the bedrooms since we moved in, bar putting pictures on the walls and clothes in the cupboards – the rooms were all decorated neutrally and the previous owners left their curtains behind, so decorating the bedrooms has been bottom of the list in terms of priority.

Where I’ve been particularly slack is in sorting out proper storage for the toddler’s room. It is an odd shaped room, above the garage, with irregular walls and pipes sticking out in awkward places (though it also has the advantage of a bay window with a deep windowsill, facing south and east, which lets in heaps of light).

The odd corners and alcoves would lend themselves to built-in furniture, and I’d like to hide the ugly pipes, but ultimately, eventually, the toddler will probably move into one of the two larger rooms and this room will be the spare room (as it is big enough to take a double bed, just). So there is no point building in toddler-friendly toy cupboards or drawers unless they can function as adult storage later on.

What we have instead of sensible storage is a motley collection of objects – starting with an inherited, rickety three-tier shelf unit which houses everything from socks to nappies to jigsaw puzzles. This unit really ought to house ornaments and delicate objects but frankly I just don’t know what else to do with it.

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The only really sensible bit of storage is a plain and uninteresting chest of drawers – but which, no matter how often I tidy it, never seems to have quite enough space for everything. I’ve allowed some bulky items – winter coats, old grobags, spare towels – to overspill into a wicker hamper, and more things are in boxes under the bed – I just don’t see an end to the quantities of stuff I have to find homes for!

We also have a bookcase which has previously contained bibs, toiletries, and bags of cotton wool, now starting to fill up with toddler books – but I needed to find a home for my more precious childhood paperback books which were in danger of getting damaged by toddler hands.

We found these shelves from Great Little Trading Co to be a good solution – this picture shows one of a pair, also adorned with various pieces of toddler artwork and other ornamental bits I would like to keep out of her hands.

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Above the shelves is a glimpse of the bunting I made whilst waiting for the toddler’s arrival – hand sewn, very laborious. I also found time to embroider the picture below during her early months – not quite sure how I did it, but I will confess I cheated slightly to try and get the French Knots right.

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I am perhaps most fond of the mobile which hangs over her bed – five hanging birds made by me from a Crafty Creatives kit (from Box 10), which might possibly be my favourite crafty thing I’ve ever made.

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There is also a monkey I painted myself, from a kit my mum gave me – he would look better hanging from the ceiling somehow, but I haven’t worked out a way of suspending him that we won’t knock our heads on all the time!

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When I look round her room, I do feel the special and handmade objects in the toddler’s room slightly make up for the disorganised state of it – at least it’s quirky, and full of things you’re unlikely to find anywhere else, and whilst I’m never going to be an expert at dressmaking, knitting or quilting, I can take pride in having decorated her room with things I’ve made myself, which she might (hopefully) treasure for years.

My long term plans for Improving This Mess so far include starting a Pinterest board for future design and storage ideas, a way of assuaging that parental shame that her room does not resemble the beautifully decorated nurseries I’ve seen elsewhere. I am keen on the idea of book slings, which seem to be an easy-ish project I could attempt myself, but I also like the Ikea hack I first saw on Gill Crawshaw’s Baby on Board blog, using Ikea spice racks painted in fun colours as instant toddler-friendly book storage.

I doubt very much that any of these ideas will be put into action in this current bedroom – it will probably happen when the toddler moves to the larger room, which has the space and potential to be organised as a practical and fun room for an older child.

The remaining question is whether we tackle one bedroom at a time or do a big swoop on them all at once (and move ourselves into the back bedroom at the same time, with the toddler going into our current bedroom). After the big renovation work downstairs is done, the short answer is that we are in no hurry to do more right now – so the poor toddler is going to be stuck with her shambolic room for a little while longer. Sorry, love – your chance will come!

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A house becomes a home

As we approach Christmas, I keep remembering this time last year, when we were scrambling to pack up the old house and I was phoning the solicitor daily, pleading with her to try and get our contracts sorted so we’d have any kind of hope of moving before Christmas.

When we did manage to move just days before Christmas, it was a huge relief, not least because I could put up decorations and immediately make the house feel cosy and homely.

With no shelf space or mantelpiece to hang up cards, we improvised with string and clothes pegs, which looked surprisingly good…and leaving our tree-buying till the last minute meant we had to get an old-school needle dropping variety, with predictable messy results (it did smell properly Christmassy, though). It was an instant injection of colour and personality which the house badly needed – and when my own home-made wreath went up, I felt I’d already put my own small personal mark on the house.

Trying to make our house a home after Christmas was a bit more of a challenge, as it coincided with the baby becoming a toddler, and learning to crawl…and then walk…and climb. We hadn’t had to put anything out of reach at the old house, but it suddenly became a priority – and we didn’t have any fitted storage downstairs at all, so nothing could be shut away or put out of her reach unless we kept it boxed up and invisible.

So after the urgent work was done – electrics and boiler – we had some shelves fitted in the dining and sitting rooms. I am particularly fond of the dining room shelves, as they come into view as you walk down the stairs, and the clutter which has accumulated there over the last few months makes me feel at home.

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Dining room shelves – a bit wonky!

The shelves started out with some of my favourite ornaments on the lower shelves – the Australian boomerang, the Chinese fan, my Silver Jubilee mug, my teapot – but small hands soon began to grab at these, so we had to do a bit of rejigging.

The bottom shelf now has children’s books and a crate of Duplo, and the breakable items, including some of my favourite vintage pieces, have moved higher and higher up, as the toddler learnt how to scramble up onto the sofa to reach the second and even third shelves. They are now a pleasing jumble of books, china, ornaments and children’s toys, and I like them all the more for that.

Living room shelves - left of chimney breast

Living room shelves – left of chimney breast

The sitting room shelves are on either side of the non-functioning chimney breast, and to quote Anthony Powell, confirm that ‘books do furnish a room’. In a rather dull, characterless room like this, (and also long and narrow, an unhelpful shape for a living room), books add depth and colour, and some much-needed noise absorption. The room felt rather bleak and echoey before, and now, with curtains pulled and the Advent candle lit, it’s cosy and snug.

The shelves also provide a good dumping ground for things we want to keep out of the toddler’s way – remote controls, fiddly toys which she would lose pieces of, and now various Christmas bits and bobs too. The carpenter even built the right-hand shelf around a pillar, which created dinky little alcoves just big enough to take our clock and a few other ornaments.

The lower half of the sitting room may be – and usually is – a tidal wave of toys, discarded shoes and board books, but at least I can look at my lovely shelves and feel quite at home.

It also reminds me of previous places I’ve lived, and how the most unlikely things can make you feel settled. I remember the housing association flat in SE1, where I had no furniture to speak of and had to sit on a futon mattress with no base, far more fondly than the grand Georgian flat in Kensington where the blocked-up marble fireplace had been lined, interestingly, with corrugated plastic.

I don’t have photos of either of those flats – the days before digital cameras and smart phones – but I do have a few of the cutest, dinkiest flat I ever lived in, on the first floor of a handsome mansion block in Bloomsbury. There wasn’t space to swing a cat, but I loved it.

It was the first place I’d ever lived properly on my own, and it became my retreat from the world during days when work had become dreary and I was rather lonely. The living room was particularly snug and dark, like a little she-bear cave, and it had a lovely deep mantelpiece which I piled high with nick nacks and scented candles and the like, so I decided what it really needed was pink fluffy fairy lights to complete the look.

Bloomsbury mantelpiece

Bloomsbury mantelpiece

I justified this utterly uncharacteristic girliness on the grounds I’d probably never live anywhere else suitable for pink fluffy fairy lights – and so indeed has been the case.

Making a family home from a rather ordinary house has been a challenge all of its own, and I’ve had to learn to dial down my love of pretty objects and scented candles, so I’ve given away the fairy lights – there simply isn’t room for so much clutter. And will there be room for a decent sized Christmas tree? That’s the next task ahead of us…