Archives for category: Kids

Parents! Don’t take this the wrong way: I’m not trying to shame you. But so many people ask me about storage when they have kids, and I think to answer this you just have to take a long look at the floor and see what’s getting between your toes. Be reassured: I have very little interest in hoovering, so feel free to take a rather blurry look at the floor. We are focussing on the toyscape, not dust bunnies or muddy footprints: the ever-encroaching army of kids’ stuff that litters any free surface of our once-calm homes.

For everyone it’s different, but I’ll bet you can name at least one plaything that you would love to put in its place, and stop spending at least a significant proportion of your day tripping over.

For us it’s cars. Races, lines, complex combinations snaking around furniture and walls, with a high-pitched Murray Walker-style commentary and glorious shrieking engines.

Looks like an opportunity to overtake....

Looks like an opportunity to overtake….

Ever since Jonas was tiny, we’ve had to respect these lines, and the story behind them: the race isn’t over until the chequered flag waves.

Two races, two commentaries, too loud

Two races, two commentaries, too loud

In times when we’ve needed the floor to be clear, they’ve taken snapshots of the race for future re-enactments. That’s how I’ve got reams of these photos, blurry and wonky, but with crucial information contained within.

The M25 is a trifle congested today

The M25 is a trifle congested today

Even a brief dabble in ‘track’ building (Brio wooden railway)

Commuter chaos: leaves and a baked bean on the line

Commuter chaos: leaves and a baked bean on the line

normally ended up serving as a backdrop to another race.

“Could it be that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere? Maybe it wasn’t left after the chicane…”

I thought it would be helpful to share some of the best-loved and most successful storage items  — those which have got you through those years of ‘entire house as playroom.’

Our particular floor/sanity saver — one which has served us so well — has been a set of hinged, lidded wicker baskets with a calico liner (see above photo). With the cars tucked up safely inside for the night, these boxes looked rather attractive stacked in an unused fireplace in the living room of our first home. For the 18 months we spent in a (cosy/small) rental, they took up residence under a window next to the sofa. They didn’t look like kid furniture, so once the lid was shut, they blended right in. Now they live in Malachy’s bedroom — holder of the race mantle these days — and have lost their fabric innards at some point or another.

We bought the set of three from B&Q at a satisfyingly low price, and they’ve served us so well, but B&Q don’t do them any more. All I can do is point you in the direction of some other savvy outlets who still offer something similar. Remember, the hinged lid is the important bit for stacking. You want a box big enough to hold your stash of vehicles (nothing more frustrating at tidy-up time than a lid that doesn’t quite close: tantrums are made of this) but small enough for you to lug from room to room when needed. Also, and maybe this is a boy way of thinking, but toys seem to work best stored in families — ie cars in one box, trains in another; Playmobil in a big tub… I don’t know: where do Little Ponies prefer to hang out? In any case, they and all their equipment should be stabled together.

So in a spirit of great stowed generosity, I’ve compiled for you a list of the places you can still buy hinged lidded wicker baskets – so that you too can clear the clutter. You’re welcome.

In at Number One, with good looks and a reasonable price point is the offering from Wilkos:

Willow Grey storage hamper/ £8 Wilkos size 35 x 25 x 17cm

Willow Grey storage hamper/ £8 Wilkos size 35 x 25 x 17cm

If you’re looking at a more advanced case of toy invasion, or simply don’t have the floorspace free for any more furniture, how about tucking this friendly storage monster under the bed?

Underbed Storage Willow Grey/ from Wilkos at £20, 40 x 70 x 20 cm

Underbed Storage Willow Grey/ from Wilkos at £20, 40 x 70 x 20cm

George at Asda is on the case too, with this similar-looking basket. They call it a trunk, but don’t worry, it isn’t actually that huge. The price is reasonable too.

Vintage Style Storage Trunk/George at Asda £10, 40.5 x 30.5 x 22cm (or £6 for the smaller version at 31.5 x 20.5 x 13.5cm)

Vintage Style Storage Trunk/George at Asda £10, 40.5 x 30.5 x 22cm (or £6 for the smaller version at 31.5 x 20.5 x 13.5cm)

You’d have to shell out more at Homebase, but you do get three for your investment — one largish trunk and two bijous containers (easier for little hands to transport).

Natural Storage Chest plus two boxes/ Homebase £45.99, chest measuring 44 x 84 x 45cm and the small baskets neat cubes of 35cm

Natural Storage Chest plus two boxes/ Homebase £45.99, chest measuring 44 x 84 x 45cm and the small baskets neat cubes of 35cm

A stately offering from Muji with taller dimensions — a steeper price point too.

Rattan Box with Lid in X-Large/ Muji £20, 36 x 26 x 32cm

Rattan Box with Lid in X-Large/ Muji £20, 36 x 26 x 32cm

Finally, a couple of giant options — less wieldy, to be sure, but sometimes those collections do get rather large. This from Wilkos is a reasonable price for the size:

Wilko Storage Trunk in White/ £35 with hefty measurements at 59 x 42 x 40cm

Wilko Storage Trunk in White/ £35 with big bones at 59 x 42 x 40cm

And at the top end of our collection, Ikea brings you this sturdy trunk for the bulkiest items (I’m thinking Scalextric for this one: nice spacious garaging here).

Byholma Chest in grey/ Ikea at £65 for the sizeable dimensions of 72 x 50 x 50 cm

Byholma Chest in grey/ Ikea at £65 for the sizeable dimensions of 72 x 50 x 50 cm

How do you contain the chaos? I’ll bring you some more ideas in future posts, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your tidy-up time solutions!

We interrupt this series of tasteful flooring posts to warn readers of a potentially hostile takeover bid by a phenomenon some call The Beautiful Game.

The more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that there is a global tournament afoot, the ups and downs of which have obsessed most members of our household for a good few weeks now. Wide-eyed in admiration at the skills and bad behaviour of those taking part, our boys have bought into the atmosphere (and a substantial chunk of the Panini sticker empire) with the dedication and stat-devouring fervour you’d expect of die-hard fans. Which they are.

Oh yes, we have three of these

Yes, we have three of these

The walls are alive with the high-definition motion of little running kicking men, and the sofa spectators agape with the drama of it all. Meanwhile I have been pondering how, even before the World Cup 2014, football is pretty much wallpaper in our lives (despite the fact of course that I would never ever sanction the application of football wallpaper in our home).

I will admit I started it: I installed a football handbasin in the boys’ bathroom.

Slippery slope: I installed this basin in the boys' bathroom -- Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Dear Future Me, This is just a slippery slope…/ Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Then we decided that in the interests of garden preservation we would not bother with a classic lawn. We have a pitch. Made of plastic. You don’t have to mow it, you can’t wear it out, and, come rain or shine, your players remain clean. It is the best investment we ever made.

Turf laws - fake grass is the best purchase ever

Turf laws: fake grass is the soundest purchase ever

Days are measured by the amount of football playing opportunities. Some interesting tweaks to the accepted rules of play sometimes make an appearance….

What happens when you mix football with breakfast time

Malachy discovers that his new cereal-inspired goalie kit has some design flaws….

So we knew what we were doing: we designed with the boys in mind. However the boys took this idea and ran with it. And that’s when the subtle nod to personality turned into an all-pervading house style.

Artwork? Sure! As long as it's red. With a football /pocket money bargain and ubiquitous team calendar in background

Artwork on my wall? Sure! As long as it’s red. With a football.

We kept the boys’ bedroom walls for the most part a fresh white, in keeping with the rest of the house. A few feature colours, like a brightly painted wall colour or striking curtains, were emphasized by the lack of pattern elsewhere.

Until blue-tack happened. And then Caspar found a ‘wonderful’ painting for £1.50 in a junk shop. And we realised that the passing of each year means the opportunity to hang a new team calendar with athletically posed gurning player photos.

Starter for ten: Which team does.... ah yes, well done

Starter for ten: Which team does…. ah yes, well done

When you’ve been successful in some area of junior level football, you get to keep a carefully moulded and easily breakable trophy to display for ever and ever in your room. Nothing must stand in its way.

Trophy fives

Trophy fives. Books take a back seat

And the clever folks in the football business know that whatever they make, we will buy. Duvets, lamps, clocks, watches, bath flannels, even Monopoly. And football cards. I can’t even begin to explain the joys of football cards and stickers.

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: cover it with as much tat as you can

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: spread your bets (that is City Monopoly for those who were wondering)

So as you prepare to bid adieu to the World Cup in Brazil — with the breathtaking, inspiring, bitey, frenetic, heartbreaking, staying-up-late, virtuoso fun of it all — remember us. Football is not going away any time soon. It’s here, and no amount of tasteful interior design influence can do anything about it.

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

I have executed a stealth interiors move.

It looks like this:

Well hi. I bet you weren't expecting me.

Well hi. I bet you weren’t expecting me.

This little chap is now resident on the light pull in our downstairs loo. He was given to me by my friend (for some reason they didn’t need it in their house, possibly because her husband is allergic to cats) and I’ve been plotting my move ever since.

This is because, whilst we haven’t talked about it, I am almost 100% sure that cute cat light pulls are not top of Tim’s design plans for our home. Sleek, modern, clean lines — yes. Cat figurines as decor — not so much.

Oh but it’s only a light pull! And in the cloakroom — that tiny room where you have full permission to exercise daring eclecticism. I snipped off the old grubby white cord and plastic cone and quickly binned them.



There’s no doubt the tatty plastic had to go. It feels cheap and lightweight.

Now there’s some substance at the end of the light pull, and the solid feline holds sway over the room.

The boys like him very much, and even Tim was mutedly positive.

Win win. The cat stays.

Win win. Kitsch cat stays.

So if you’re planning some stealth improvement work of your own, in the words of a certain sportswear brand, just do it. It’s unlikely anyone will have the energy or antipathy to take action against it. You never know, some may even be converted….

I like a clever way with stairs. As you probably know, I decided to highlight mine with an orange line. Other staircases which made me smile were the ones with bright stripy runners, and even one with a tree. Another trick you’ve probably seen is the one where people write messages on the risers.

Mission statement/ In This House decal stickers on Etsy

Mission statement/ In This House decal stickers on Etsy

These inspirational quotes are great, and also of course can be used as wall decals too. Check out some of these for some words of wisdom:

Decal from Wulfsexpressions

Decal from Wulfsexpressions

You can get this whole wall's worth of decal from tkwraps

You can get this whole wall’s worth of decal from tkwraps

This handy reminder is part of a hotel/ apartment design experiment by company mode:line

This handy reminder is part of a hotel/ apartment design experiment by company mode:line

Though I think, if I’m honest, that these perky messages could wear a little thin after a while. A snappy phrase that seems so apt at first might eventually become trite when you’ve seen it every morning for a few months. Maybe that’s the beauty of a wall sticker: once it starts to annoy you, just rip it down.

So you need to choose carefully, and get something that you’re not going to regret. Something that you need to hear over and over. Something that can only make you stronger. And that got me thinking: how could I make it work for us?

This one appeared on a kids’ rooms blog. This is a great example of what we don’t need:

Bob Dylan's endearing poem is a stretch too far. To be honest, I probably wouldn't put this on a greetings card, let alone a wall. But maybe for a less confident child it could work?

Bob Dylan’s endearing poem is a stretch too far

I probably wouldn’t put this on a greetings card, let alone on a wall. But maybe for less confident characters there could be some value here.

I enjoy the solid practicality of this one, however:

Handy work with the mosaics. This message will stand the test of time.

Handy work with the mosaics. This message will stand the test of time

Yes, this resonates with my style of parenting.

Reading it approvingly, the answer hit me: I don’t want to get poetic, or need to remind myself or my family of what we could be. Everyone in our house has plenty of ambition and self-belief.

What I want is not to have to say the same things over and over again, many times a day, on some crazed audio loop.

I want the rules. Written down, so that I can take a break. I can just stand mutely and point to the appropriate stair or wall, instead.


Don’t throw balls inside. Don’t throw anything inside. Or kick or bounce anything inside. 

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. And by elephant I mean pretty much anything that can be launched in a missile-like manner. Windows, table lamps, picture frames and drinks have all been sorry casualties of the throwing/kicking/bouncing-things-inside game. The amorphous beauty of this game is that any person caught red-handed playing it can say, eyes wide in innocence, “Oh! I didn’t realise we weren’t allowed to throw elephants!” Or bounce sheep. Or kick pandas.



"I have no idea what you mean, I have never been used as a projectile."

“I have no idea what you mean, I have never been used as a projectile.”

"No, I just slipped on the stair. I know nothing about the wonky pictures on the wall."

“No, I just slipped on the stair. I know nothing about the wonky pictures on the wall.”

It’s not that I don’t like the boys to be active. We have a garden with an AstroTurf lawn, which is perfect for throwing and kicking. Even so, our back windows are liberally decorated with pretty ball imprints in a random pattern, a bit like year-round festive snowflakes.

The ball just wants to come inside. NEVER relax your guard.

Even the ball wants to come inside. NEVER relax your guard.

So this is my most important rule, and as such should feature on a wall, large, in Tahoma Bold. On particularly trying mornings, I am sometimes asked, “Can we roll things, then?” This makes me feel just that little bit more weary than I already was. On which note…


Nobody needs to wake up before seven.

This is a true word which none of my kids even remotely acknowledge. Every day, I say it. Sometimes I get out of bed and say it to the noisiest awake child actually in person. It doesn’t have to be this way. Most times I hide my head under my pillow and pretend that I wasn’t woken up before seven.

I would paint it on their ceilings, and the underside of the bunk bed, for Malachy, in special, glow-in-the-dark ink. I think if we catch them early enough, we may be able to change things. This is inextricably linked to…


No getting up before seven. Certainly no playing music or radios before seven. Definitely no jumping up and down or running loudly around the house before seven. You may read quietly before seven, if your eyes will simply not stay closed any more.

Like I say, nobody needs to wake up before seven. But since that is not a concept that my boys have ever grasped, the next priority is that we should try and minimise the impact on others. The problem here is that I don’t have a catch-all phrase for the variety of different things a boy can do before seven. It’s the sheer number of loud activities that defies the inspira-litigation approach I’d like to take. I could, I suppose, go down the route of addenda, or draw up a ‘definitions’ page on the back of the bathroom door.


Walk with your whole foot!

God made your foot to work in a smooth heel-toe motion

which enables you to go quietly when necessary.

If you walk on just your heels

you might as well have been given a stump or a hoof.

Heel walking sounds like someone is trying

to pogo-stick down the stairs

or buffalo are trying to break through the ceiling of my bedroom

(regarding which I refer you to the points written

on your bedroom ceilings regarding wake up times)

This could look good on the stair risers, no?


Please sit down while you are eating. You don’t need to get up. No. Sit down. On your bottom.

I was going to add something about knives and forks being used and not nibbling your food out of both hands like a squirrel, but I did read an advice column once about table manners which said you shouldn’t try to tackle too many issues at once as it can be confusing and demoralising. Since I am already pretty demoralised about what goes on around our table, we’ll stick with the basics. I can always upgrade if we ever make it past first base.

Clearly this is a perfect tablecloth design motif, along the lines of Not on the High Street products.

With Love Tablecloth from

With Love Tablecloth from

(You heard it here first).


Time to get your shoes on. Coat on. School bag. Lunch box.

It’s fine, I recognise that we haven’t got very far since my previous post on this matter. I do still yell “shoes ohhhhn!” most mornings. But it’s the process between initial shout and exit which I’d like to refine.

Somehow, this moment becomes the ideal opportunity to practise the piano. Then, everyone remembers how thirsty they are. Suddenly, we need to rearrange Match Attax cards in a different order and must finish the task. But we don’t have a ‘show and tell!’

The lack of focus is the thing. I think I need some sort of funnel-effect graphic on the floor towards the door. Oh yes, and…


Shut the door!

Or maybe I just give up on this and buy a spring-loaded hinge.

When it comes down to it, I suspect that even with the best calligraphy and most careful formatting, these helpful notices will be about as effective as my spoken nags reminders. That is, a sort of decorative white noise, for immediate mental relegation below the more important things of life, such as The Grand Prix, or Winning, or Who is More Famous: Wayne Rooney or The Pope?

Anyway, I have my own special written out rule, and it’s one I have heeded obediently since we received it as a wedding gift. I think it’s stood me in good stead over the years and I haven’t felt bored by its message yet.

A motto to live by

Finally, a wise motto to live by


One of the very fun-looking presents the boys have received in recent months was an origami kit, making cute animals out of nothing but small squares of paper (and, it turns out, deep reserves of patience). It sat in our craft pile for a while before Malachy found it one rainy afternoon and wanted to make his paper zoo.

It all seemed so easy.... / Wild and Wonderful Origami

It all seemed so easy…. / Wild and Wonderful Origami

It is possible that well-drilled craft-making children and their Pinterest-successful mothers can tackle these complex challenges with their eyes shut. After all, with paper that small, how hard can it be? Well, I can now tell you that it is in fact pretty hard, and requires a substantial amount of concentration and rule following, neither of which is particularly celebrated in our family, apart from on the football pitch, of course. The boys have all ‘had a go’ and then handed me the rather limp and wrinkly paper to ‘finish off.’ So we do have a slack-limbed sea otter and a wonky snake lurking in the green drawer of the sideboard (where craft goes to retire before being pensioned off, quietly and under cover of darkness, to the recycling bin) and the remaining kit is still full of potential design victories (ever optimistic) for next time there is a rainy afternoon.

No amount of Photoshop can hide the fact that this baby has never achieved the upright pose/Sea Otter: 'Easy'

No amount of Photoshop can hide the fact that this baby has never achieved the upright pose/Sea Otter: ‘Easy’

Which sorry background goes some way to explaining the admiration I have for this new Danish designer, and his amazing creations. Morten Droob has invented an origami lampshade called Dressed Up.

Shades of the dark arts/ Dressed Up origami lampshades from Droobski

Shades of the dark arts/ Dressed Up origami lampshades from Droobski

Folded paper lanterns and shades have long been popular, and at the moment you can see a lot of plain white wire-framed designs in the shops. Ikea alone have five:

Papery orbs from Ikea

Papery orbs and UFOs from Ikea

Additionally, the skirt-inspired shade is starting to make waves in some retail lines:

Neat little A-line from BHS, Ivory Pleated Bow; Lyrik from Ikea has petticoat charm; sweet little Etsy shop gem TutusafaribyApril; grass skirt from lights_linen on eBay

Neat little A-line from BHS, Ivory Pleated Bow; Lyrik from Ikea has petticoat charm; sweet little Etsy shop gem TutusafaribyApril; grass skirt from lights_linen on eBay

I love that Droobski manages to merge the two in this clever feat of paper engineering – there are no wire frames, simply origami wizardry. With their fulsome flamenco skirts and crisp pleats, Dressed Up shades come in a rainbow of colour options, all individually hand-folded at the artist’s work bench.

If you are looking for an inspiring piece of statement design for your room, this is such a perky and unique purchase. Check out the little vimeo clip on the Droobski website, on just how easy it is to attach and pop open your chosen shade.

As for me, I fold. In the manner of a poker game. And leave the proper folding to the experts.

It’s 8.45 on a school day morning. I turn the corner out of the kitchen wielding lunch boxes, clump up the three stairs into the hallway and holler the “Shoes ohnnnnnnn!!!” command up the stairs.


Three more steps up the main staircase (the smart orange line one). “SHOES TIME! It’s time to put on your shoes!” The cat rounds the corner from the kitchen and meows helpfully in response. She reaches the front door and starts sharpening her claws on the mat. There is no other sound.

I sprint up the first flight of stairs. Silence. Up another. Jonas’s room: empty. If I listen very hard I can just hear discussions, but muffled. More flights of stairs, check an empty Malachy’s room, and I am finally at the top. It is most definitely time to get shoes on by now. But no-one is in Caspar’s room, and the voices are still muted. This is when I open the cupboard doors….

Bespoke board games hideaway

Bespoke board games hideaway

Despite the fact that I put an awful lot of thought into Caspar’s cupboard, I had no idea it would prove quite so popular. For this is in fact a small boy equivalent of a clandestine poker den, minus the whisky and high stakes, although come to think of it, Monopoly is normally the game of choice. Like the world at the back of the wardrobe, Caspar’s cupboard takes you out of the general run of things. You can’t hear the “Shoes on!” shout, the lighting is dim, the shelves around you are full of enticing toys and Lego.

Eaves with potential: what I had to work with

Eaves with potential: what I had to work with

As I mentioned last time, I had harboured plans to make use of the eaves spaces for storage in the attic bedroom. I had heard friends tell of amazing designs by loft conversion firms and well-known wardrobe makers. I started by chatting with a carpenter I knew about commissioning something that incorporated all the storage needs for the room into that one area. I listed the elements I wanted in there: drawers or shelves for clothes, hanging space, book shelves, significant amounts of toy storage. I also wanted to use as much of the area as possible, despite the fact that the back wall followed the line of the sloping roof, and there were structural beams straddling the front that shouldn’t be removed. However reading up about costs for these sorts of designs, and then getting the jaw-dropping bespoke quote, I realised very quickly that this work commanded a luxury budget that certainly wouldn’t fit in with our modest plans.   So I decided to design it myself, using as basic methods as I could, and see what was possible. The joiner on our team of builders was Si, who just promised me, “You design it, I’ll build it.” Bearing in mind his time was my money, I went back to my wish list and tried to pare it all back to its simplest form.

For clothes storage I really wanted a chest of drawers, but drawers are, as you can imagine, a complex and time-consuming thing to make from scratch. I realised that it would be perfectly possible to insert an existing chest of drawers into a space and build around them. Finding them was my first task: made so much easier by the Ikea website, which lists the dimensions of all its furniture. From the comfort of my desk, I found the largest chest of drawers to fit the space between beams on the left (also Malm, satisfyingly, so matching the bed). This then left another strut to fit around, which I felt could delineate the hanging wardrobe space. Then, the remaining, largest gap could be for the toy storage cupboard.

Malm drawers, wardrobe door, toy cupboard. Partitioning out the storage

Malm drawers, wardrobe door, toy cupboard. Partitioning out the storage

The cupboard doors were going to be fitted with handles for opening, but then we noticed that the Malm chest of drawers had a sloping diagonal finger grip at the top instead. We designed the doors in the same way, and it keeps the storage wall flush and neat.

Hanging rail wardrobe for shirts and smarts

Hanging rail wardrobe for shirts and smarts

Since the space went back so far into the eaves, I also made use of the area behind the chest of drawers to made a bookcase accessed from next to the bed. I modelled the design on some shelves we already had: with varying depths and heights for each shelf. They look very sweet, nestled into the wall, and fit all the different sized books that a child tends to have, as well.

Staggered bookshelves in roof space

Staggered bookshelves in roof space

The toy storage cupboard takes up most of the rest of the depth of the eaves. I think I ended up sectioning off about 80 sq cm of floor space right around the back, which couldn’t realistically be accessed from any point. But the rest of it is completely functional.

For the shelving inside the toy cupboard, I measured various storage boxes which we keep our toys in, as well as running a quick survey of the dimensions of Ikea’s line of containers. There seemed to be a general link at around 30 cm: some were this length, others longer but still at a 30 cm depth. So I decided 35 cm would be a useful depth for the shelves.

Simple but thought-out shelves will be long-term useful

Simple but thought-out shelves will be long-term useful

Then I checked on the heights of various boxes, and designed the height of the shelves accordingly. It was a bit painstaking, but worth it, as the shelves are now perfectly set up for pretty much anything we want to put on them. We use them for chunky items of clothing, as well. Of course, as Caspar grows older, there will doubtless be many changes of use. But I think the design can take it. I asked for the corners all to be rounded, so that crawling into the cupboard wouldn’t cause unnecessary injury. It’s all made of painted MDF, a far cry from the tulip wood and walnut we could have commissioned, but actually affordable, and fit for purpose, even smart in its own way.

Multi-function storage

Multi-function storage (and it won’t have your eye out)

We fixed in a wardrobe lighting set, so that you can see what you’re doing. It clearly provides exactly the right ambience for a few undercover games meetings. Sadly these are sometimes interrupted by a Real World representative on a raiding party (shouting “Shoes on!”), but the school day is not that long, and normal service can be resumed by 4 pm. In any case, as everyone knows, a game of Monopoly was never finished in a day.

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