One of the many reasons I have a heart for Syria is because we have friends living there. There’s nothing like being in the comfort of your parents’ home in the middle of beautiful rural English countryside, sitting round the kitchen table as a teenager and tucking into your mum’s delicious roast dinner, whilst dear friends tell you about how their young niece would hear bombs going off on the school run, to make you realise how unjust this world can be sometimes and what an embarrassingly privileged life I lead.
I am so honoured to be able to share with you snippets from a Skype conversation I recently had with one of our friends, as I was hoping to share a more personal account of what life is like in Syria and some of the motivation behind the #SpendforSyria2017 charity auction. Sometimes, we get so used to seeing tragedy on our television screens or scrolling through the BBC News app, that it can desensitise us to the individuals living with it everyday.
Whilst our friend, Sophie, is a lot more privileged than most in Syria due to having Western contacts and her husband, Tom, has US citizenship which enables travel and freedom of movement (he was born and grew up in Damascus but studied for a degree in the US,) I hope it gives you a little more insight into life there and how it has affected people, just like you and I. Please note for safety reasons, all names have been changed in this interview. Sophie speaks incredibly good English but some words have also been changed from the original interview for translational purposes…
I can honestly say it’s the best £1000 we’ve ever spent. We’ve never had a huge budget for doing up this house, but to spend 1/6 of that on getting rid of the old UPVC door and transforming our homes curb appeal was definitely the best decision we ever made. I absolutely hated our old door, and I hate to admit I’m this shallow, but it genuinely made me feel embarrassed about the house. We’d worked so hard on transforming the interiors, but 95% of people only ever saw that horrible plastic white thing more akin to a static caravan home than a Victorian cottage in the beautiful South Downs National Park. I remember our first Christmas in the village, taking Darcey for a little walk in the pram to get some fresh air and coming home to Matt exclaiming ‘I swear we have the only UPVC door in the WHOLE village, everyone has beautiful Christmas wreaths on their beautiful Farrow and Ball doors and ours is just BLEURGH!!!’ (You may come to realise I’m never one to understate my feelings…)
Well yes, apparently that seems to be the case. Except I’m not sure I would call myself a blogger just yet, the imposter syndrome I am feeling is in full force as I venture to make this post public with everybody. Who knew I’ve been bustling away behind the scenes, writing blog posts and not even telling anyone about it?!
So here we are then, another interiors blog to add to the already over-saturated market of interiors content online. Man am I aware of that! I must confess though, in all my time scrolling on the interweb or scouring social media, I haven’t quite come across another interiors blog that totally gets ‘me’ or our situation, so I thought I’d start one!
If you’ve arrived here from my Instagram, you will probably be well aware we are trying to sell our house. I must confess, we had no idea it would take this long and even our ‘worst possible outcome’ was that we’d have moved somewhere bigger by Christmas 2017 which is not looking likely whatsoever. Now that, my friends, is a whole other story of which I’ll love to tell you one day when I can report a happy ending, but, I did originally set up this blog to document our new house, our new project, the transformation of our ‘forever home’.
I hope and pray, that one day soon, I will be doing that, sat at my desk in my new office, smugly tapping away at my keyboard, full of energy and beans because the girls FINALLY HAVE THEIR OWN ROOMS AND DON’T WAKE EACH OTHER UP EVERY NIGHT! (I am well aware all my ‘energy and beans’ will probably then be spent on sanding a staircase, rolling a ceiling, or knocking down a wall but please do let me indulge in a future where I am not tired for one moment.)
It is certainly widely acknowledged that moving house is very stressful. Then add in the complexity of trying to sell your own home, whilst finding another appropriate one, PLUS having two little tornadoes running through the house, daily emptying the sock drawer on the floor, turning your plants upside down or throwing Weetabix at the wall like an Olympic shot putter on speed, and you’re in for a fun couple of months…
It was definitely at the point where we had to strip the wall in the girls room right back to the original wood when I thought we were never going to achieve our three week deadline. It was also the moment where I sent an urgent plea out to good friends requesting help with the decorating. Quick!!! Darcey has to sleep in this room in 8 days!!! PLEASE help. Emotive? Guilty. Using a baby to get you free labour? Guilty. Desperate? Hell to the YES.
Due to previous damage and decay we had to strip this wall right back and our plasterers boarded it up for us and re-plastered. It was an unexpected and unwelcome job but it had to be done and at least it gave us a bag full of wood perfect for kinder on the fire?! (Essential to clasp onto any positives you can whilst going through a renovation I think!)
Before we bought ‘The Otto House’ we rented a large, detached three-bedroom house with an enormous studio in the garden. Like many here in the South of England we had to downsize to get on the property ladder so storage has always been a bit of an ongoing challenge. I am a curtain-maker by trade and not only used the old garden studio for making curtains but also for hoarding HEAPS of fabric, wallpaper, paint, magazines, books and anything else remotely crafty. It was like a creative paradise to me and something which I am sure I will never have again, but I am so very grateful for the two glorious years I spent stitching away in there whilst the sun streamed through the double doors. (And the winters spent in a coat, hat and gloves bent shivering over my sewing machine, but, you know, that sounded less poetic!)
There are definitely moments when you are knee deep in rubble, power tools and paint samples where you come to think this must be your life forever. Will I ever rest my fingers on a surface in this house and it not be covered in a thick layer of dust? (Probably not, actually!) Or will we ever have a house without lights hanging precariously from the walls, a rug covering up untiled surfaces, or living a life where you frequent Homebase more than your local pub?!
The first birthday of our firstborn, Darcey, was definitely such an occasion. We were three days away from moving in and had so much painting to do before the carpet fitters arrived that we just simply did not have the time to celebrate her birthday ‘properly’. Obviously, in a world where searching ‘first birthday party ideas’ on Pinterest can send you into a land of vomit inducing unicorn utopia, I found it quite sad that we weren’t making much of, what is, quite an important milestone. We had been a family for a whole year! We had survived! And more importantly, so had she!
As first time home owners there are certainly many things you have to consider that I’d never even thought of before. Now don’t get me wrong, I am really happy with the overall finish and we certainly have made a huge aesthetic transformation to what we started with, but there are some aspects of our renovation that I would do differently if I could.
So, firstly, why the rush?!
We were living in rented accommodation and managed to get a three week overlap where we could live in the comfort of one home, whilst drastically changing the next. Most of the work required was dusty and messy and in a small two-bed, we knew there would be no ‘give’ once we’d moved us, a baby, and all our stuff in, so we really needed it to be liveable and child-safe by the end of those three weeks.
People often ask us how on earth we do it all whilst looking after the children and to be honest with you, there is no magic answer. There is no wand that turns a dingy and dated hallway into a new fresh, practical and modern entrance unless you’re willing to put in the hard work (or hard-earned cash). Whilst we don’t have much of the latter, we have attempted (and completed) many DIY jobs around the house so here’s a few tips that we’ve learnt along the way…
Two of the things that get the most comments over on my Instagram @theottohouse are our bathroom tiles and this exposed brick wall. It really was so very simple to do and at next-to-nothing cost, is a great way to add character to a room on a low budget, but despite that we still felt pretty intimidated by the job and almost didn’t go for it. Do you have similar apprehensions? Read on to see how we did it and how we feel about living with exposed brick, one year on.