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New home: Living room

We moved into our lovely little terraced house in December 2013. I was thinking about why we renovated the house in the order we have, despite the rooms we haven’t decorated being uninspiring, tired and impractical.

I suppose it’s because the loft (Dec 2013-Jan 2014) was a quick and easy fix and a nice room to start with; the bathroom (May 2014) was pretty grotty and, while needing an overhaul, wasn’t too expensive to get on with (and fitted in nicely with a trip to Cannes while the majority of the messy, toilet- and shower-less work was done); the nursery (Dec 2014-Jan 2015) needed to be refurbished in time for the lovely Finlay’s arrival; as did the kitchen/living/dining room (Jan 2015-Feb 2015); and finally the hall and landing needed a makeover after it took a battering during all the other works. The master bedroom and front room were the obvious candidates, unfortunately, for later refurbishment.

But at last we’ve got around to the front room.

Making do

Making do after moving in

Previous owners' version

Previous owners’ version

temporary heart of the home

Temporary heart of the home

When we moved in, the front room was a lovely mix of milk chocolate brown walls with gold stenciled Greek Fret motif border (annoyingly inconsistently stenciled), dark green carpet and imposing tiled post-war fireplace with gas fire. It’s had a few iterations in our time here. At first we just moved our stuff in and made do. Then, during the major building work at the back of the house, the front room became our kitchen/dining/living room and the room we spent most of our time in. After that, we ripped out the grotty carpet, which had got grottier over time thanks to the building work, and the mismatch shelves, and put down an old rug and put up Ikea Billy bookcases in the alcoves. That was how it was to stay for a year, until this February when it was time to get ripping things out again.

Our plan: a modern African-Scandinavian living room

First to go was the brown-painted fan-textured wallpaper with naff gold stenciled border. Following that, it was time for the fireplace to go – a tough and dirty job for the hubby and brother-in-law on the first Monday of the February half term holiday. Then it was onto papering. We couldn’t afford to get the room completely replastered despite the walls being lumpy and bumpy in places. So, we chose a really nice modern textured anaglypta wallpaper that would hide imperfections and add interest. My dad came down from East Yorkshire to teach Jeffrey the skill of hanging wallpaper (minus the chimney breast which wasn’t yet ready for the wallpaper), and then Jeffrey and our kind neighbour Omar dug out the old concrete hearth and laid a new one to take the slate tiles we are yet to lay. Removing the old fireplace had left a messy, unsightly opening which needed plaster boarding and skimming. As it was only a small section, Jeffrey decided to tackle it himself – learning another new DIY skill (by this point the new skills learnt were really stacking up – 1. removing a fireplace, 2. laying concrete, 3. wallpapering, 4. fixing plasterboard, 5. skimming).

Fireplace removed

Fireplace removed

Patching up with plasterboard

Patching up with plasterboard

Filling and skimming

Filling

Papering

Papering

 

 

 

 

The next job was the floor. The original wooden floorboards are in good nick, so we decided to sand them back and leave them exposed. Sections of the floorboards had been painted with a dark paint which has left them partly stained, but it all adds to the character. They are 114 years old, after all.

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Papering

Painting

Painting

Eventually, it was onto painting. We knew we wanted to brighten up the room, but we didn’t want to leave the room completely white. So we decided on a lovely warm slate grey emulsion by Homebase for the chimney breast and alcoves, and pure brilliant white (why would we choose anything else?!) for the other three walls.

 

Hanging the blinds

Hanging the blinds

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Fitting the shelves

After painting the walls, ceiling, skirting boards, architrave, door and sash windows (new DIY skill number 6), Jeffrey fitted new Venetian blinds (those plantation shutters we have been lusting after for months will have to wait) ahead of another visit from my dad to crack on with the floating shelves in the alcoves. By this point, it was the day before Good Friday. After about 5 weeks of picking away at the long list of DIY to get the room done, the finishing line was in sight. And Finlay was overseeing the installation of the shelves just two days before we were due to welcome family for a first birthday celebration.

At last we’d reached the time to dress the room. An oversize 1959 school map of Ghana bought for the bargain price of £20 for Jeffrey’s birthday, a woven wool rug from John Lewis, some cushions by John Lewis and Orla Kiely (and two homemade cushion covers – one made from Ghanaian Kente cloth, the other from cotton from John Lewis), a new floor lamp and pendant from Nordlux, and a great new Ikea mirror were the last finishing touches. While there are still a couple of things to do – two small pieces of skirting board, tacking and painting unsightly TV wires, the laying of the slate tiles for the hearth, a small log burning stove, tidying up a Ghanaian wooden stool, and some more art for the large white wall (we’re awaiting a couple more Ghanaian masks and some Bolga baskets and fans from Jeffrey’s mum’s next visit to Ghana) – it’s pretty much there. And a vast improvement on the previous living room. Safe to say we love it.

Six rooms down, one to go.

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Finlay’s makes – Christmas cards

It’s New Year’s Eve. A week ago today it was Christmas Eve. 9 months ago I was still pregnant. Just. How did that happen?

Since Finlay was born we’ve done a surprising amount.

We’ve decorated the hallway and landing and had decking and fencing installed in the garden. We’ve (as in, my Dad has) fitted folding doors to our under stairs cupboard. And we’ve fitted baby gates to the stairs and living room.

We’ve been on walks in Epping Forest, long family visits to Yorkshire and day trips around London. We’ve been to visit friends and family in Yorkshire, South London and Surrey. We’ve been to Christenings and 1st birthday parties. We’ve had friends visit us for weekends from Hull and Cannes. We’ve been to the beach and out for meals. We’ve had a Yorkshire garden party.

We’ve been to baby rhyme time, baby swimming, baby massage, baby signing, baby sensory.

Finlay has learnt to roll, babble, eat, sit, crawl (well, his is more a crawl-cum-shuffle-cum-bunny hop), stand… the list goes on.

Finlay has even learnt to paint.

So for Christmas we decided to let Finlay make the Christmas cards. I say we let Finlay make them. What I mean is, we let Finlay paint some bits of paper which I (Mummy) used to make Christmas cards. But I’m sure if Finlay could have seen the whole process through these cards are exactly how he’d have imagined them.

Here’s to a creative and eventful 2016.


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New home: Hallway and landing

One of the things about doing major building work is the impact on the rest of your home. As part of getting Finlay’s room sorted involved moving the door from the middle of a wall into the corner, we ended up with a part of the wall plugged with plasterboard and plastered on both the nursery and hall sides. This meant we had to strip the wallpaper and carpet from the landing. Then, of course, our subsequent major building work downstairs at the back of the house to create our new kitchen/diner/living area meant that, what with living in a mid-terrace with no rear access, everything – including excavations for the foundations, garden waste and building materials – had to come through the house. We also blocked in the old doorway to the kitchen, so were left with another plugged and plastered wall in the hall downstairs. So it made sense to add the hallway and landing to our spring renovations list.

Hall/landing beforeWhen we moved in, the hallway and landing were a delightful mix of pale yellow wood grain effect anaglypta wallpaper, a mix of original and unoriginal grey/lilac painted paneling, a pale laminate floor in the hall and dark brown polyester deep pile carpet on the stairs and landing.
The unoriginal paneling in the hallway had been badly installed. When these houses were built in 1902, beautiful wood paneling was installed over bare brick – there was no need to plaster to the floor, but instead just from the ceiling to the top of the paneling. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, when the original paneling was stupidly removed from the hallway at some point in the house’s history, the owners decided to put chipboard behind new cheap paneling. This chipboard was taller than the paneling, leaving an unsightly seam about 10cm above the paneling. The panels were also narrower than the original paneling on the stairs and applied unevenly, showing it up as a cheap replacement.

Our plan: a light, bright, Arts and Crafts hallway

First, it was off with the not-so-old old paneling and the chipboard behind. We had to make a decision about whether to replace the paneling or plaster the wall instead. However, a tight budget meant that the most cost effective solution would be to replace the paneling with replica paneling with panels the same width as the original and running it above the old unsightly joint where the plaster ended.

The only thing we knew we wanted to do once the paneling was on and the walls were plastered was lighten it all up. Being a mid-terrace house there is no window on the landing, so the dark brown carpet and wooden front door and banister weren’t doing it any favours. Jeffrey was inspired by the beautiful White Drawing Room at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House in Bowness-on-Windermere for our own Arts and Crafts movement house in Walthamstow, so it was on with the white paint to the walls, woodwork and paneling. Then we chose a grey wool loop carpet for the landing and stairs and engineered oak wood flooring to carry through from the kitchen/diner/living room to the hall.

We also stripped the chipboard panels that had been covering the panels of two of the original interior doors since the 1960s and moved the one from upstairs downstairs, leaving us with two matching original doors downstairs.

We would have liked a seating and shoe and coat storage area but, being a young family, space for the buggy took precedence, pushing any hope of that out of the window. But my dad – being a retired cabinet maker and joiner extraordinaire, knocked us together a great wall hung coat rack, giving us great storage for coats, scarves and other outdoor essentials.

To finish it off, we framed some samples of a few Morris & Co fabrics, including my favourites the Strawberry Thief, Brer Rabbit and Bramble, to form a little Morris collection in the entrance and took Finlay’s first three artworks to create a cool little tryptych on the landing. A duck egg blue coat of paint on the original front door, and a full length mirror on the landing finished it off nicely. Now we’re just waiting for a cool Flensted mobile for over the stairs and we’re done.

After

 


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Baby knits – pom pom beanie

If there’s one thing babies need (there isn’t by the way – babies need shed loads of stuff), it’s lots of hats.

Finlay received a lovely 6 month sized hat and cardi combo from the mum of one of the kids at the hubby’s school when he was born. But other than that, he’d grown out of his newborn hats well before the cooler weather struck. With autumn really setting in, a warm hat is a must for Finlay’s walks in the buggy and swings in the park.

I bought Max and Bodhi’s Wardrobe pattern ebook from Tin Can Knits, which included the lovely cardi pattern I shared last time. I was planning on making the Bumble beanie. However, after realising I would need to go and buy myself 3.75mm and 6.5mm 40cm circular needles and 6.5mm double pointed needles (plus extras a little larger in case my gauge came out small as they often do) I decided against it. I couldn’t be doing with the expense. But more importantly, with no decent knitting shop in Walthamstow and the desire to get going with the knit as soon as possible setting in, I didn’t want to wait for an online delivery or make my way to John Lewis in Stratford City hoping they had the right sizes in stock.

Instead, I reclaimed a lovely little baby knitting book from my sister – Sarah Hatton’s 10 Simple Projects for Cosy Babies – so I could knit the Moss Stitch Hat. I love this pattern. It’s quick and easy and leaves you with a great little hat. I have made this hat a few times now for various babies, including Adam and Oliver, two lovely little boys up north in my hometown of Hull. And I think it’s always a hit.

I bought yarn from Drops again. I think Drops merino yarns are great value, great quality yarns. And with no synthetic fibres, they’re warm and cosy and lovely to knit with (Just an FYI – I hate synthetic yarns. I just don’t get the appeal. They’re scratchy and shiny, look cheap and are just not as warm. I don’t wear synthetic fibres, so why would I use them for my baby? They’re also not enjoyable to knit with.)

This hat required a double knit yarn, rather than the 4 ply Finlay’s cardigan required, so I bought Merino Extra Fine in mustard and north sea.

I knitted the main body of the hat in mustard and added an oversized pom pom in the contrasting teal, made using a cardboard ring like this one, to avoid the annoying, time consuming stuffing yarn through a hole over and over again method of days of yore. Boy, did that use a lot of yarn?!

I think it works. And Finlay loves it too!

Next up – switching the colours.

 


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Baby knits – cardigan

Colourblock cardiganBefore Finlay was born, I started knitting some cute little newborn trousers and a tank top in gorgeous baby cotton. For several reasons – baby coming a bit early, illness and finding our feet as new parents – I didn’t get these items finished until Finlay could no longer fit into them unfortunately.

Since then, I had done some crochet; crochet being much easier to pick up, do while breastfeeding, and put down again. But now, after six months of getting to grips with our new life as a family, I have finally found the time to knit. My first project? A cardigan. I love cardigans for babies. They’re practical, easy to put on and take off and so damn cute. Finlay already had a few cardigans in his wardrobe – four from his Mormor and one from the mum of one of the hubby’s students (you can see those, on Instagram at #knitsforfinlay) – but as we’re now going into winter and Finlay continues to grow, he needs more.

I came across the Playdate cardigan from Tin Can Knits on Ravelry and thought it looked lovely. It was also seamless, meaning no annoying sewing up of different parts after all the knitting – my least favourite part of knitting clothes. But it did involve a couple of new methods that I had never tried before – pockets, and sleeves using double pointed needles.

I wanted to make the cardigan in a colourblock design and chose Drops Baby Merino in four bright colours – orange, vibrant green, turquoise and electric blue – suitably not babyish, nor particularly boyish. After choosing in what combination to use the colours I made a start. And after a good few hours of knitting, hey presto – a super cute cardi for a super cute baby. Even if I do say so myself. And for just approximately £5 in yarn and a few evenings of knitting.

Roll on the next one.


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New home: kitchen / diner / living

After 20 weeks / four and a half months of being parents, we’ve got a bedtime routine pretty much nailed (she says, terrified it could all go to pot any second now) and have started to get our evenings back somewhat. So AT LAST I can get round to sharing the biggest piece of renovation work for our house.

When we moved in, we did the best with what we had. The living spaces weren’t particularly spacious. The floor area was there, but the layout and quality of it was not great. So, as mentioned before, after a few nightmare months of liaising with a structural engineer we eventually got plans for our extension and booked in our builder for January.

Our Plan: A light and open family living area, with room to cook, eat and relax

Processed with Moldiv

The plan was to knock down the shoddy lean-to which had been constructed by knocking down three of the walls of the old coal house and outside loo and joining up with where the back door had been to create an extension to the kitchen. It was a single brick construction with a glass roof meaning it was bloody cold in winter and bloody hot in summer. The kitchen was a small galley kitchen with an opening into the lean to, few cupboards and old, tatty oven and sink. The only space for the fridge was in front of one of the windows in the lean-to. Meanwhile, the dining room next door was pretty dark; the original window looked out into the lean to. It certainly wasn’t geared up for the modern family we had in mind.

Once the lean-to was gone, the builders would be replacing it with a slightly larger well insulated, sloping roofed, solid extension with bi-fold doors. The external wall between the dining area and the extension would then be removed, along with the internal wall between the dining room and kitchen. And all the floors would be leveled off. This would create a larger, open plan space which would allow for a kitchen diner with living space. Perfect for a growing family.

It was a pretty big task, but our builder promised it’d all be done in 6 weeks. Though we did think this a little optimistic and so lied a little bit about the baby’s due date to make sure it all came together with time to spare. So come the first week of January, the builder started demolishing the extension. It’s a pretty frightening thing, coming home each day at the start of your building work and seeing your lean to going from a slightly ramshackle building to a home to a pile of mud, then wall-less and roof-less, before vanishing completely. There’s no going back at that point, and whatever happens you have to keep going and have faith that all will go to plan. Otherwise, we’d less house than we started with and no back door to keep us secure. And with a baby on the way, that wasn’t ideal.

Cramped living quarters - kitchen, dining and living room 4x4m

Cramped living quarters – kitchen, dining and living room 4x4m

Things progressed with the building work, as we plodded along (me more so than the hubby) with keeping the building work on course and trying to keep warm and comfortable in less than comfortable living arrangements. Our front room was acting as a kitchen, dining and living room. The fridge in one corner, dining table in the window and microwave next to the telly. Throw in a three seater settee, coffee table and a big birthing ball and things were what some might call cosy, others cramped.

After several weeks of food parcels from the mother-in-law and ready meals, the builders were moving out. They’d done their work to the kitchen / dining / living room, and it was ready for us to take over.

In progress…

Our budget was always quite tight for the whole project. We’d managed to save up enough money to pay for the building work, but the fittings were another matter. So, in came my dad and the hubby to lay the floor and fit the kitchen.

The kitchen

We designed the kitchen as a U-shape rather than an L-shape or single wall kitchen. A few people said to us things along the lines of, “don’t you want to have the kitchen along the whole right hand wall to the back doors?”. Our answer was a resounding “no”. We wanted to make sure that the space had different zones. A defined dining area, living area and kitchen area. This was to be a multi-functional family room, and a kitchen along the whole of one side of the room wasn’t for us. And anyway, with that we wouldn’t have achieved the valuable kitchen work triangle.

We also knew that we wanted to keep the space simple and clean, but not clinical or cold. So we decided on a warm engineered oak floor and simple stone coloured shaker style kitchen with oak worktops. We decided against tiles and instead went for an oak upstand and stainless steel splash back. As the kitchen isn’t huge, we didn’t want to waste worktop space with a pointless draining board that would end up with limescale build up over the years regardless of scrubbing, so we chose a simple inset stainless steal bowl and a half and bought a removable drainer for the washing up. At least that way the washing up isn’t left out for hours on end. Under cupboard lights and a brushed copper pendant hanging low-ish over the sink added good task lighting rather than the typical spotlights or a useless pendant in the middle of the ceiling. Sadly, we didn’t have space for a double oven, but we treated ourselves to a good quality single oven and gas hob instead. And in came our washer/dryer, fridge/freezer and dishwasher that we’d bought for our first home in Highbury in 2009. They worked fine, so why shell out for new? A final plinth drawer for under the oven provided extra storage.

Dining area

By the end of the transformation our bank balance was vastly reducing, so our old on-the-small-side Habitat extending table had to suffice for the time being. But we bought a lovely new copper pendant to hang over the dining table and hung our huge maps across the wall – picking out the turquoise of the chair upholstery (the same brilliant 1960s Danish teak chairs we had in our Highbury flat) and the copper of the light. Add the must-have in every Scandinavian home – a Tripp Trapp highchair – and we’re there. A new, larger 1960s teak table will just have to wait.

Living area 

We wanted the living area to be in-keeping with the rest of the room, so found ourselves a new mid century modern style settee to sit opposite the 1990s Danish beech units that my parents brought down for us from their home in Hull. These units were to house a selection of CDs that we couldn’t part with and a fraction of our record collection and be home to the hubby’s decks (which he is regularly using to teach Finlay to mix and scratch). Above the units, we hung several cube shelves for some of our favourite bits and pieces.

The living area opens out onto a decked patio (expertly fitted by my dad) through the oak bifold doors – a must-have in any living area in my opinion.

We’re awaiting a rug for the living area, and a built-in unit under the stairs currently hidden by a curtain next to the dining table. Then, once we’ve also changed the curtains which we put up for some quick privacy, we’re done.

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New home: Finlay’s room

I wrote most of this post in the late afternoon of Good Friday – 3rd April 2015 – and abandoned ship after I realised what I thought might be contractions definitely were contractions. 17 hours later our first child, Finlay, was born. Unfortunately, 90 minutes after birth Finlay was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) fighting a serious infection affecting his lungs and blood pressure. After 14 days in NICU and SCBU, we were able to bring Finlay home well and happy. 

This post is about the room we decorated at home to be Finlay’s first room – his ‘nest’. In reality, Finlay’s first nest was the one with all the machines and drugs keeping him alive shown in the image on the left.

You can read the poem ‘Three Nests’ that my husband wrote during Finlay’s stay in NICU, which describes the nest we made (this one), the one we mocked and the one we sat in. 

 

Between renovating the bathroom in May and relaxing over Christmas, very little happened on the home renovating front. You may remember back in June I mentioned that we had been having difficulties with a structural engineer for our plans for the downstairs. Then in November I shared the news that we were expecting an addition to the H-B household. Well, we managed to find a new structural engineer and engage the services of a builder for our major building work downstairs – more on that in a future blog post – which was due to start in January.

But before tackling the structural work downstairs, the hubby and I thought it necessary to tackle the room that was to be the baby’s room. We booked our builder to come just before New Year, and before he started downstairs, to come and help us get started.

These old Edwardian houses were designed as two-up two-downs. They were cheaper housing, likely for manual workers (indeed some of the previous owners of this house included fish sellers) and were not particularly plush, though I’m not sure these were the cheapest housing stock of the time either. They were made up of a hallway, leading to a small galley kitchen at the back, next to a dining room, with a living room at the front. The stairs run up the middle between the living and dining rooms. These stairs then went up to the first floor between a front bedroom and a back bedroom. At the top would be a door to the front room, opposite a door to the back. There would be no landing.

This is, I believe, how many of the houses down our and surrounding streets have since remained. Many have added an upstairs bathroom which doesn’t have direct access but is instead accessible via the main and second bedrooms.

Processed with MoldivHowever, our house is somewhat different. A landing has been installed between the stairs and the back, second bedroom. This leads to our bathroom and stairs going up to the loft. The previous owners had installed this landing when they had the loft converted. But they made one particularly bizarre decision – to put the door to the second bedroom in the middle of the wall to the landing, rather than at the edge. This wasted rather a lot of space in the room, leaving in effect only two usable walls. The room also had massively uneven walls, a damp patch in the ceiling where we’d had a leak in November, and a delightful 70s cork floor. And it was painted in that lovely creamy white that I think the previous owners must have got a job lot on.

Our plan: to make a dry, cosy and practical room for our new addition

I had been pulling together a Pinterest board (below) for inspiration for the baby room since we discovered we were expecting. Jeff and I decided not to find out the sex of the baby; neither of us had a real hankering to know. But what we did know was that there was no way we were planning to instill gender ideals into this baby of ours. It never occurred to us to paint the nursery either blue or pink or stock up on blue or pink clothing depending on what sex the baby is. It really perplexes and annoys me when people would say, on finding out we don’t know whether we’re having a girl or boy: “but how do you know what colour to paint the nursery?” or “how will you buy things in preparation?”. My annoyance was compounded when I received the following email from the BabyBump app we were advised to download to guide us through pregnancy (see image below).

pink or blue

Apparently,when decorating a baby room parents-to-be should:

1. Decide on a theme. Girls like fairies, ballerinas, flowers. Anything pretty and delicate. Obviously. While boys like anything masculine. Think mechanical or strong. You know, space ships, trains, dinosaurs. Obviously. (Now, if you read my Sophie Kingo is getting married blog you’ll know my thoughts on themes.)

2. Use the colour befitting of a girl or boy – i.e. pink or blue respectively.

3. Mix the theme with the gender-specific colour. So think ballerinas, bunnies and flowers in nice pink and lilac hues for girls, and spaceships, vehicles and dinosaurs on a nice boyish blue background for boys.

And if you don’t know the sex of your new baby? Luckily the BabyBump app gave some tips of how to handle that scenario.

Anyway, I could rant on about gender stereotyping and the limits it places on individuals and society for some time. But this is about our baby room renovation, so I’ll just leave you with a few links worth taking a look at at the end of this post (sadly I couldn’t find the articles that have stuck with me on this subject to include here today).

Back to the baby room.

Just before New Year, the builder worked his magic moving the door from the middle of the wall to the end, which gave us a lot more room and turned the room from a wide corridor to a roomwith three usable walls, replastered all walls and the ceiling to get a smooth finish and replaced the skirting boards, adding a bead to the top to tie them in with the original skirting boards in the front bedroom and living room.

Processed with MoldivIt was then onto the decorating. We chose a lovely off white/pale grey matt emulsion – Snowfall by Crown – for the walls and brilliant white for the ceiling and woodwork, a pale beige loop carpet, a white wooden venetian blind and multi-coloured spot curtains made by Mormor (my mum).

As for the furniture, there was only one piece that was new – the cot, which was a generous gift from Jeffrey’s cousin and her family. For the rest of the furniture, we spruced up an old wardrobe that was made by the previous owner’s granddad, and which the vendors left behind for us, and a book shelf and sideboard that were made by my dad for my room renovation when I was 14- years-old.

We added a few pictures to the wall that I had acquired over the years – including a print of a silk painting of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen that I bought in about 1997, my GCSE art piece from 2000, an original little piece bought on Las Ramblas in Barcelona in 2002, and a scene from a H.C. Andersen fairytale that I bought in about 2005 – and a moon and star nightlight from Ikea (the moon was one I bought back in about 1998).

A multi-coloured homemade crochet mobile that I knocked up a few weeks ago hangs proudly over the cot and a little hook rack made by my Dad a few years ago is home to a few nice pieces of clothing we have been given from friends and family.

There are still a couple of bits we’re waiting for – including a nursing chair for the corner – but otherwise we’re done. And now that Finlay is home we can enjoy using it for nappy changes till he moves into it properly.

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A few articles on gender stereotyping and colours:

Out of the blue and in the pink

From TV to toys: What makes girls into girls and boys into boys?

Gender Roles and Childhood Development

(I will be adding more articles as and when I come across them. And hopefully when I find the excellent few articles I have read on the matter over the past year or so.

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