A Handmade Life (in a ready-made world): Balancing Curation and Convenience to Find You Own Style

None of the furniture in our house matches.  Generally my clothes don't really match and, by extension, Hadley's are a clash of patterns and dark colours (we're really into greys and greens and navy - I was thrilled when her hair grew long enough for a little clip so that well-meaning old ladies would stop asking how old 'he' was!).  I'm the product of an artist mother who painted her houses (and there were a few, we're a bit nomadic by nature) in colours like 'Matisse Orange' and 'Tennis Ball Green' and an Americana antiques-obsessed biker dad.  Combine that upbringing with a husband who works in antique jewellry and has his own incredible appreciation for the stylish, the quirky, and sometimes downright bizarre, there was never any hope of our home looking like a Farrow & Ball or even IKEA showroom.  To put it plainly, our family likes STUFF.  But mostly we like OLD STUFF.

Since leaving home for university at eighteen, I've spent a lot of time in rented accomodation: Ancient presumed-haunted dormitories (holla to my Robie-Andrews buds!), buildings with secret saunas (that still worked.  Not that we were really supposed to test them out...), a stone-floored Florentine flat for 7 with views of Santa Maria di Fiore, an Art Deco studio apartment with the tallest ceilings and unpredictable radiators, a surreal summer spent in a cottage directly on the beach of a teeny tiny island off the coast of Maine, the converted basement of a German/English family's home just outside of Hamburg and finally, a massive crumbling Victorian terraced house on the edge of a canal that was my first home with the husband. 

We loved that house so much.  Michael spent months tearing out carpeting and stripping wallpaper, painting the whole place white so that when I arrived, emotional but elated from two years nannying in Hamburg, he proposed to me with a beautiful ring he designed and a big blank canvas of a home to begin our life together.  We had no money but spent everything we had on paint and plaster and the coolest second-hand furniture we could find.  Our dining room walls were painted blue chevron with bright yellow curtains that I made from offcuts of Ikea upholstery fabric and on our bedroom wall I began a giant mural of a blossoming magnolia (that I never finished...I got lazy).  Even though we were renting that place from his mum, we still put everything we had into it until it was a stitched together space of our own. 

When it was time to move on and become homeowners, we fell in love with and bought the second house we looked at: another Victorian terrace on a slightly smaller scale just one mile down the canal from our first home and completely finished except for some cosmetic work that we were eager to dive into.  With both of us now in stable full-time jobs and a bit more cash to play with, we became less impulsive in our house shopping, more discerning in terms of style and quality and have, over the past 3 years, designed a home that feels like us but a bit more grown up.  There's less clutter, more purpose to our various collections (we're sticking to records, antique cameras and my kitschy pleasure of vintage porcelain fawns).  The wild colour combinations are gone (except for a bright green kitchen ceiling), replaced with bright white walls and Danish teak charity-shop treasures.  There's a clear fondness for geometric light fittings, screen-printed concert posters & sentimental wall art, bare floors and bright rugs.  Nothing is from the same 'line', in theory nothing should fit but somehow, inexplicably it looks just like us and is a perfect reflection of who we are as a family.  Even our daughter's bedroom sticks to the same ideas and themes of functionality, nostalgia, whimsy and sentimentality. It's certainly not to everyone's taste but that's the beauty of the times! There is no right way to decorate, no right way to get married and definitely no right way to dress.  There is no longer a normal, thank goodness!

n a world where entire houses can be boxed up and shipped to their new owners, where 'fast fashion' prevails, Hobby Craft has an entire DIY 'Vintage Wedding' section, and Anthropologie is selling exact replicas of perfectly distressed shabby-chic antique dressers at a 1000% mark-up it can be so easy to curate a personal style by just shopping online.  Indeed we've had some amazing luck finding furniture on eBay and I'm the first to check out the Anthro sale when it comes up.  But sometimes you find gems in the least expected of places without having to spend a fortune! Wilkos, Tesco Direct, Next, HomeSense and TK Maxx, Dunelm Mill and especially Ikea; these companies more and more are giving in to the Pinterest idea of home and event decorating, encouraging people to mix and match so that no two spaces are alike.  For many families and couples in our twenties and early thirties who are newly on the property ladder, still in the early years of our careers and/or new parents, we don't have a lot of disposable income.  We have to improvise, to dig and search and yes, shop, so that we don't have to sacrifice style for cost.  That's the beauty of some of these companies and the products we are seeing on the shelves.  And combining new and inexpensive with found or secondhand is when your style really becomes unique because you've worked for it, you've thought about it and it means more than just the fact that it was pretty.  Or it can just be pretty! That's cool too!

If you're not into the idea of secondhand or are really struggling to find quality in the vast land of charity shops, eBay, Gumtree and even Facebook buying & selling groups can be great places to start without having to leave home.  The key is to get an idea of exactly what it is you are looking for.  Instead of 'vintage sideboard' try searching '1960s atomic style teak furniture' and adjust location settings to a radius that you're happy driving within (keep this as big as you're comfortable with, you'll have more luck)...the field narrows considerably and rather than digging through a thousand listings, you're down to just 20.  Seek out small auctions of house clearances, estate sales and larger antique fairs like Newark.  You have to be patient and willing to haggle a bit but they can pay off beautifully!

No matter what, your personal style, your home, your wedding, they should all be a reflection of YOU.  But don't be afraid to try out something that scares you, something that traditionally 'shouldn't' work but does because you thought it up or found it.  Experiment! Play! Be bold! I can't wait to see what you come up with.