From Doing to Being

What a whirlwind the last five months have been – buying and moving into our first home, undertaking and living in a small renovation, growing our first child, all while navigating a busy work schedule.

We are extremely relieved to have been extracted from the day to day realities of the mid-pandemic housing market – predatory real estate agents and practices, relentless hunting, overwhelming competition, excruciating evaluation of personal suitability versus actual value, saccharine offer letters and depressing rejections. In total we viewed 43 homes with our 17th offer being accepted. Gruelling.

What is not immediately obvious about renovating is that it requires a decision regarding e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. In the kitchen, that’s the layout, materials, appliances and fixtures, but also the colour of the grouting, lighting locations, type of cupboard handles, the design, quantity and height of electrical switches, et al. Many decisions are related to the intuitive functionality, rather than aesthetic feel, of the space – that is they’re really critical to making a space ‘work’. Multiply that swath of decisions by however many rooms you’ve been brave enough to tackle. So there is the physical work of construction (which we mostly outsourced) but also the mental work of conceptualisation.

Having survived the process I can, with knowing tongue in cheek, understand how some couples are completely broken by it or end up in therapy. Despite our share of painful conversations, M and I eventually came to recognise, and respect, that our differences establish a healthy equilibrium – where he is pragmatic with the ability to visualise things easily, maintaining the momentum of decision-making at the risk of an occasional wrong call, where I am more idealistic, reliant on samples to consider every possible variable to avoid making the wrong call, at the risk of delaying work. Toward the end, if it wasn’t urgent M gave me the space to deliberate, and if it was urgent I communicated any immediate concerns or simply let it go.

One other learning was just how much can go wrong. As experienced designers we expected hiccups… but not quite so many, or by so many different suppliers. Like the toilet flush plate, which was first mounted incorrectly by the builders, then once installed flushed excessively long (the store had paired a newer facade with an older mount) and had to be looked at by the brand specialist who managed to solve the problem but in the meantime fractured the glass plate, posting out a wrong replacement model, until finally the correct model was sent and installed successfully by M. Or the kitchen countertop, where the stone supplier discontinued the material we had selected, but failed to let the kitchen designer know, instead sending a substitute with an entirely different finish and colour. So here we are, 9 May and 16 weeks since our somewhat small renovation began and not a single room is 100% complete. Of course some element of global supply chain woes, price hikes and staff shortages related to the pandemic and its economic fallout have played a part in adding to the chaos.

Living in the renovation no doubt added to our burden. And while it was somewhat naive of us, it was also extremely practical (four months of rent and mortgage after home buying fees and renovation costs and before accommodating a child? No thanks). But for sure I did not think through the jeopardy of being 24 weeks pregnant and having both loos out of action, ducking regularly to our local supermarket for relief. Or having to be showered and dressed by 7am to avoid being caught in a towel by a builder. Or having to traipse up and down two flights of stairs between the attic (with prep space, sink and chairs) and the garage/garden (with fridge, oven and BBQ) to cook a meal. It was tough-going. And our naïveté was probably for the better, I’m not sure we would have otherwise had the stamina.

And all this while pregnant(!). Most first mums I know were extremely disciplined (healthy eating, vitamins, walking, yoga, pelvic floor exercises, etc.) and well prepared (reading, courses, baby’s room ready months in advance) in their first pregnancy. Which is maybe how I can shape a second pregnancy! Given the circumstances, M and I are extremely fortunate that things have thus far been pretty uncomplicated, made up in phases of very ‘normal’ symptoms*. And we’re also very lucky that baby did not feel compelled to arrive early. I’ve been on maternity leave since 4 April, five weeks ahead of my due date, which seems generous but at that point we were still packed up in 20+ boxes and yet to paint, let alone being physically or emotionally ready to welcome a newborn.

At some point during our house hunt I miserably complained to my mum, ‘I just want to get on with my life!’. To which she replied, ‘But this is life’. Touché, mum. Since we packed up our London home back in September 2020 it has been a wild ride. Most significantly, I’ve gained a deeper awe and love for my husband, as we’ve been exposed to experiences where I’ve had better insight into just how capable and committed he is. Simultaneously, it has definitely felt like eighteen long months with our belongings in boxes and personal interests on hold. With baby’s arrival, whenever that might be, we are ready to slow down and just enjoy ‘being’ for awhile.

*my experience of an ‘uncomplicated’ pregnancy included: tiredness, loss of focus, loss of breath, blood noses, foot cramps, fainting, back pain, Melasma (pregnancy mask), sciatica pain, heartburn, swollen ankles, choking on my own spit, snoring (M loved this one) and increased blood pressure, among other things.


Crossing the threshold

I have lived in rental properties all my life – for the entirety of my childhood, and for the seventeen years of my *officially* adult life. Before we moved to the Netherlands, MR suggested that we buy, rather than rent, a house. It took me awhile to come round to the idea, foreign as it is, but we are now looking for our own home.

On arrival we were ignorant to the state of housing here. We have since learned that houses are, comparative to London, somewhat reasonably priced and in decent condition, and that one hundred percent mortgages and home-owner tax benefits are available. Breezy, no?

Poster by Ruben Pater

We have also discovered that the demand for housing far outweighs the supply. I don’t know the exact details, but I believe the crisis emerged loosely around 2015 as a result of a parliamentary pause on building to minimise environmental impact. Particularly in the Randstad, this has resulted in 8-12% over-bidding as the norm and property values literally doubling since 2015 – check any address on the government’s value register. Skyrocketing prices in Amsterdam have compounded, in part, due to the rise in foreign investment and the doubling of tourists per year from four to eight million between 2004 and 2017 (read more).

Poster by Ruben Pater

Contextual complexities aside, the present possibility to own our own home feels life-changing for me. I was raised by a single mother on a receptionist’s wage, although her parents – who were generous with us in care and finances – were comfortable. This goes some way in explaining the conflict between my middle class values and my working class psyche. But, as Eula Biss points out, defining class is a tricky task.

Read more


Follow the river

Today we followed the Kromme Rijn out of Utrecht for a short distance, returning via Erasmaslaan and the Rietveld Schröderhuis before heading into the neighbourhood of Schildersbuurt (which got me checking house prices on Funda). We were very happy to stumble across Olijfje, a very well-stocked organic grocery store which will probably become our go-to when we move to Adriaen van Ostadelaan on the 1st of December.

On a good day it would be nice to follow the river much further to Wijk bij Duurstede, a 29km walk southeast. Two more routes: the 5km Rietveld route, and the Singel Park 360° which loops Leiden’s old city.


Living with art at Kettle’s Yard

MR took me to Kettle’s Yard for my birthday 🎈 without either of us knowing too much about it. I had seen the identity developed by Apfel, and our landlord Nina had mentioned it. Excerpts on its history from the website below.

Between 1958 and 1973 Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede. In the 1920s and 30s Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. Thanks to his friendships with artists and other like-minded people, over the years he gathered a remarkable collection, including paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

At Kettle’s Yard Jim carefully positioned these artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects, with the aim of creating a harmonic whole. His vision was of a place that should not be

“an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.”

Kettle’s Yard was originally conceived with students in mind. Jim kept ‘open house’ every afternoon of term, personally guiding visitors around his home. In 1966 he gave the House and its contents to the University of Cambridge. In 1970, three years before the Edes retired to Edinburgh, the House was extended, and an exhibition gallery added. The House is by and large as Jim left it. There are artworks in every corner, and there are no labels.