If there was ever a lady to speak to about renovating a house with kids in mind, it’s midwife, author and mum-of-four Clemmie Hooper, AKA @mother_of_daughters, 33. A couple of months ago, Clemmie and her husband Simon (AKA @father_of_daughters ) moved their family of four girls (Anya, 10, Marnie, 7, and twins Ottilie and Delilah, nearly 2) from south London to Ramsgate, Kent, and a sprawling Victorian house by the sea.
So I was delighted when Clemmie, a firm believer that “you can have a gorgeous house and kids, you just have to be clever with how you use the space” agreed to chat with me about her - and her family’s - plans for her new home. We also discuss her strategies for winning the interior war against Simon, a lover of “clean, symmetrical lines” who Clemmie says would “weep if he knew how much I spent on bed linen”…
EM: Hey Clemmie! Thanks so much for chatting with me about your new home. So I’ve just moved into South East London, but you’ve just moved out, haven’t you?
CH: Hi Emily! Yes, that’s right. We’ve lived in the area – Brixton, Herne Hill and Crystal Palace – for the last 10 years, but with four kids we knew we needed more space. Our original plan was to move to Bristol – Simon and I went to Bristol uni and Simon’s family is from Bristol too. We found a house we really liked there but in the end that fell through. Simon was devastated and we took our house off the market.
EM: So how did you end up in Kent?
CH: My mum is in Whitstable so I know this part of the world well. And in fact you can get a lot more for your money here than in Bristol, where property is really expensive. So I was just searching Rightmove for five-bed houses in Ramsgate in our budget when I happened to click on this house. I viewed it as soon as I could and right away knew it was perfect. Then it was simply a matter of convincing Simon to put our house back on the market to buy a property in an area he didn’t know. And then we had to persuade the people selling to wait for us to sell our place – luckily they weren’t rushing. It all worked out though and we bought our new home in Ramsgate for the same price as we sold our much smaller four-bed place in London. We moved in on Halloween!
EM: What attracted you to the house?
CH: I grew up in a house with period features so the cornicing, ceiling roses, fireplaces – they all made me feel at home. The house had once been a GP surgery and I really liked what the last owners had done with it; they’d kept some quirky details and things like traditional doctor signs and a light that lets you know when someone is the room. And then there’s the fact that it’s massive. Absolutely ginormous! Every time I visited I thought: this is a house for a family. The layout works well for us – the girls have their own space on the top floor and there’s a separate playroom for the twins they can trash, a family sitting room, and an adult sitting room. Plus there’s the utility room and pantry – it’s the dream!
EM: How about the location? Is that equally dreamy?
CH: It’s walking distance to the shops and sea front, and there are some amazing parks nearby too. It doesn’t have a huge garden, but that was never the plan – living here is about being near the beach.
EM: It sounds like you have everything you need!
CH: The only thing is there’s no loft – we had all our shit in our loft in London. But this just made me do a massive clear out – I gave my friend Clemmie Telford all the girls’ clothes. And then there was stuff that went to help women affected by domestic violence, and I did a big toy clear out in aid of Syrian refugees. Then loads of crap went to the dump.
EM: How did you decide where to start with the renovations?
CH: The first thing moving into this house taught me was that I don’t know anything about interiors. I don’t know where to start or what I want.
EM: Aw no way! Every picture I’ve seen of your home looks beautiful!
CH: Well, I started to follow more interiors blogs and Instagram feeds and discovered a lovely little world I’d never really delved into before; it’s giving me lots of ideas. I haven’t actually painted anything yet, but I have wallpaper samples up in all the rooms.
EM: Ooh I'm OBSESSED with wallpaper. Have you chosen any yet?
CH: I’m starting with the downstairs loo – I’ve got a gorgeous old sink and fixtures, and an old radiator, and I’ve gone for this wicked wallpaper from Cole & Son. You know, the one with leopards on it?
EM: Yes! They’ve got that in the loos at the Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden. It looks amazing!
CH: When I first found the leopards wallpaper and showed it to Simon he was like, No bloody way! He just doesn’t get that kind of thing. But I convinced him we should just have it in the loo – guests go for a wee and…WOW! – and he gave in. What do you think, should I paper the whole room?
CH: There’s wooden paneling to halfway up the wall, so maybe above that.
EM: Sounds perfect. Any other décor decisions?
CH: I chose the wallpaper for our guest room next week – another Cole & Son – that dark green tropical design. Simon says he doesn’t love it, but I said I don’t care; it’s just in the guest room!
EM: War-winning talk if ever I heard it! So onto the all-important question: what are your views on pink?
CH: At the moment just the hallway is painted Calamine [a pale pink Farrow & Ball colour], but I want more pink in the house. I just got these gorgeous dark pink velvet armchairs with gold legs from Love Your Home. I think they’re lovely but Simon thinks it’s all a bit Abigail’s Party!
EM: There’s nothing wrong with that! Any other recent finds?
CH: I love finding and supporting new and independent brands and business down here. And I blimmin love Made.com! I really enjoy finding treasures in junk shops, too. Simon’s not impressed with my latest find – an old chandelier - but I guarantee when I’ve scrubbed it with a bit of washing up liquid he’ll say it looks great.
EM: Do you have any more tips on winning the interior war against our décor-wrecker other halves?
CH: Simon likes clean, symmetrical lines, whereas I like to be a bit more creative. So I have a plan to build a study room, with a panelled wall on one side, and the other a huge feature wall of different pictures: he wants all symmetrical black photo frames; I want to mix them up. I got an interior designer friend of a friend come over to draw professional drawings of the space the way I want it – when Simon sees the boards he’ll come round. The trick is to let them think it’s their idea in the first place.
EM: I quite agree. Anything you DO let him loose on, décor-wise?
CH: He does put his foot down about some things. And he likes designing and drawing up spaces like our en suite with two sinks, so I’m letting him get on with that. But on the whole, well…it sounds really bratty to say I get my way, but he knows I really enjoy dressing a room.
EM: How about your bedroom? Any thoughts on how that will look? Does Simon get a say?
CH: We’re actually going to convert the twins’ huge, gorgeous room into our master bedroom, with a walk-in wardrobe and en suite shower room. A bedroom has to feel luxurious for me: I love my bed; I love going to bed. And I always have flowers in my bedroom – it has to feel like a sanctuary. Simon would probably weep if he knew how much I spend on bedlinen – he doesn’t even see the point of making a bed when you’re just going to get back in it! As for décor, we had Farrow & Ball Ammonite in our last bedroom and I loved it.
EM: That’s the colour of the cornicing in our new sitting room – it’s beautiful. So will you go for the same shade again?
CH: I’ve no idea what colour I’ll go for yet. But I am planning to buy a huge rug to go over the original floorboards.
EM: And how about building work to the house? Are you making any major changes?
CH: We’re planning some proper building work next year. Starting at the top of house and working down. Bespoke storage is definitely something we’ll be investing in. It’s so expensive but worth it. Simon says we’re going to have to get a new boiler, but that’s not a sexy way to spend money.
EM: Ugh. Do your older girls have opinions when it comes to their rooms?
CH: A big part of getting Anya on board with the move was saying she could do whatever she wanted with her room. So she went on Pinterest and came up with ideas for a cool Scandi-chic design – white walls; quite minimal. But she’s so messy – I’m not sure she realises the irony! I do think, though, that if you give kids a lovely space they respect it.
EM: Are there certain areas of the house the kids aren’t allowed?
CH: I need certain rooms that are my space; my sanctuary. I won’t keep the twins out of them entirely – that seems a bit cruel – but they don’t stay little for long anyway – their behaviour changes so fast. They might draw over anything now but they probably won’t by the time they’re three or four.
EM: Finally, any advice on making a home you love while your kids are still young?
CH: You can definitely still have a gorgeous home and kids – don’t give up! I keep some rooms that the kids can make a mess in. And there are loads of clever kid-friendly velvet options, and those washable velvet cushions from H&M Home – they’re fab!
EM: Thanks so much Clemmie – and good luck with turning your new house into a fabulous family home – sounds like you’ve got off to a great start!
Clemmie’s book, How To Grow A Baby And Push It Out is on sale now.