Creative Children’s Spaces

My life has been upside down since the beginning of the year with a host of new projects - some have fallen by the wayside, others have been put to one side marked “another time - another place”, others are on-going but one of them has come to fruition.

I have finally finished my second book - Creative Children’s Spaces. It is a follow up to my first book Creative Family Home. And very exciting news that my debut book is now available in 5 languages Dutch, German, Italian, Finish. Next up is a Korean translation. 

It’s been all go. Researching, interviewing, travelling, styling, art directing and writing. I visited 17 family homes in Europe with Ben Robertson who captured the spirit of each family in his photographs. Every home had a different aesthetic - from a rustic home on the edge of a forest to an urban architect minimalist home. The thread that binds the families together is their creative energy and spirit that they all possess. I always wonder what will become of my creative family children. And therein lies yet another project.

Creative Children’s Spaces will be published in September by Ryland Peters and Small and is available for pre-order from Amazon.

Creative Family Christmas - London

Creative Family Christmas - London

When I think about Christmas it is threaded with memories of my own childhood Christmases - some like smiling eyes dusted with glitter - others pricking at my heart like invisible shreds of broken glass. The sugar-coated commercial ideal of Christmas perpetuates the myth that there is such a thing as a perfect Christmas and a perfect family.

I like many people have a family that is split into fractions that make up my unconventional and unplanned family. I have the family from where I hail, my everything, my heartbeat, my sanctuary, my roots. I have my daughter’s father’s family who became my second family for the best part of a decade and yet as quickly as they were part of my world they all but disappeared - loyalties lie next to an awkwardness in the midst of busy lives, compartmentalised, until now. Olive’s Grandma and I made a trip together to the school family Christmas concert that made such a difference to me and to Olive. And in the last few years I have a new family to add to a modern patchwork - my partner Matthew’s family who were an unexpected gift who become more and more important to me with every passing year.

It isn’t the easiest time of the year but it is the one that resonates with almost everyone, the one that holds the most significance and the highest expectation. For my part I take a deep breath and try to conjure up as much magic for Olive as possible.

Our tree arrived in the first week of December. Sparkling with tiny white lights it had a staring role in my Christmas children’s fashion shoot for RedOnline. Its simplicity and rustic beauty gave a sense of winter wonderland to factory where we live in East London. It has been a hectic month with editorial and look book photo shoots, work on my new book and end of term concerts and award ceremonies. I work right up to the wire in my kids store before I can lock up shop on Christmas Eve. It makes being able to travel home to see my mum and stepdad in the wilds of the Hebrides for Christmas day impossible so I look for a dose of nature wherever I can find it. Each night when the dirty London air fades and our factory is tucked up underneath an ebony blanket I turn out the house lights and my fairy lit handsome tree takes me to another place - and there I sit.
| made an advent calendar for Olive - a succession of envelopes each one wrapped up in words of wisdom like “Magic” … lots of kids don’t have disney versions of Christmas … “learn how to make your own magic kiddo”. Inside a pencil to make up a colourful spectrum by Christmas Eve. As Olive opened the promise of each day one by one - more and more she wanted to decorate the tree and turn it from my forest beauty into the_real definition of a Christmas Tree - ”an evergreen or artificial tree decorated with lights, tinsel, and other ornaments at Christmas”._ I loved it as it was but just before our Christmas party I gave Olive her Christmas tree decorated with vintage baubles, glass parrots, russian dolls and ice skates and miniature mirror balls.

We didn’t go and buy new party dresses (not that Olive would wear one anyway) - instead we went to our local Indian Beauty Salon for Mendhi decorated hands. We had been steeping pears in vodka for weeks and like a bunch of eccentric scientists Olive and her happy crew served up festive Vodka and Ginger Martini’s.

Today has been a quite and simple one with just Matthew and me - his kids are with their mum and Olive is with her dad. We have taken it with open arms as a day to slow down. Smoked salmon breakfast, a Bloody Mary in a cosy traditional London pub and a walk in the park. It’s dark outside, we still haven’t eaten our Christmas meal and have only just opened our presents.

The best present - that after all these years finally I have accepted that this is modern family life. I know that Olive is ok - she is wrapped up with her other family - one that I have only seen in pictures but somehow that is ok.

After all this is real life…you have to love it…Happy Christmas.

Some favourite moments from my December

Creative Family Christmas - Paris

Creative Family Home - Christmas - Paris 2013
Louise Jennings and her family featured in my book Creative Family Home. I first met Louise, and her children one-by-one, when I opened my children’s store Olive Loves Alfie in 2006. I loved Louise’s unique sense of style and imagined that her home was much the same - original, inventive and creative. I began working on my book as they were about to move to Paris to embark on a new family adventure. We had just enough time to shoot their house adding it to my list of favourite creative family homes. Their London home was a family work-of-art, a creative hub that miraculously had a sense of wonder and calm. How did they manage that with 4 boys under 10 and a dog - they have their own philosophy that they live and breath “creativity over chaos”. Result.

Q: What do you do whilst you decorate your Christmas tree? A: Music, music, music, preferably very loud and probably involving Garth’s top ten of 2014 which he does every year and sends to friends as a download then there’s lots of chasing turns to get up the ladder! Q: Do you have any other decorations?
A: A wreath on our front door and lights strung along our balcony like the Royal Family would, I’m sure! Q: Do the children have favourite decorations?
A: Yes! They all love some little old robots bought years ago but dwindling in numbers because they’re breakable and not suited to wrestling boys! Now we’re living in Paris the London bus and Big Ben decorations are pretty prized too.
Q: Do the children make any decorations, cards or presents?
A: Yes! We’ve got a few home-made baubles on the tree and we make our cards every year. This year was a lino cut that was printed by the kids. They made 126 of them. They kept busy during a wet weekend a few weeks back. Q: What sort of advent calendars do the boys have?
A: We have a Lego calendar. Obligatory in my Lego obsessed home and a good old fashioned nativity scene one - just to remind them why Christmas happens at all. Q: What have the children hoping to get for Christmas?
A: Books on Stan Winston \(special effects hero from the old days of Hollywood. Spider Man still rules for our youngest Asa. A real bow and arrow and a BMX. Q: Do you have any favourite family Christmas activities?
A: The kids have a Harry Hill joke book that always gets used between Turkey and Chocolate Log time. Due to the amount of drink being sunk they know it’s worth waiting until then to get the most laughs. Also, in France it’s traditional to have a big meal at midnight on Christmas Eve with close friends and family. It means Christmas day starts a little alter and sometimes Santa gets a bit messy with his stocking filling at 3am or so… Q: Do the kids have anything special they wear on Christmas day?
A: They all have different coloured braces. So does their Dad but I think they’ll rebel soon….