Showing blog posts tagged with: making a home

Interior design as a way of coping with cancer?

by Hilla Duka - View comments

My living room after a year of redecorating

When I was told I have cancer, I thought my life was over, then and there. I wont attempt to describe the first weeks after finding out - you either know because you've gone through it yourself, or you just can't understand, no matter what words I use to explain, and some things just hurt too much to relive, the mind instantly recoils from it.

 

One of the first things I wanted, that I could really feel I wanted, other than to just not have cancer, was to fix our home. Before the diagnosis I had just started making plans to buy a house; about twice the size of our current flat, a room of their own for each of the children, a garden where we could hang in the summer, Jonathan could grow things... All of that was lost as soon as I found out about the cancer. I had been so ready to walk out of our little flat, and now I just wanted to decorate it - weird right?

 

I think there were two reasons I took such an interest in decorating our home. Firstly, I've known Ilir for years and years, and while he has lots of great qualities, interior design and decorating aren't it. Not even a little. I guess I just thought that however our home would look when I died (I stayed in the mindset that I was going to kick it any day for a really long time), was going to be how it would always look, so I'd better make sure it looked nice, and was practical.

 

Also, because I've never had any heirlooms, or inherited furniture of my own, or really anything from my grandparents or from before them, I wanted there to be things in our house - furniture, paintings, whatnot, for my boys to inherit. Rather than mope around and feel sorry for myself that I didn't have anything from the generations before me, I wanted to do something positive with that feeling - take control and create something for my family. And I wanted our home to reflect us, not just be filled with off-the-shelf things, but things we'd made or salvaged, antiques, stuff like that. Very far from the ideals I grew up with, with my architect family, where patterns instantly equalled bad taste.

 

We'd reached the stage that it was time to through out our old sofa - while it had been heaven when Milo was a baby and I luxuriated in the deep, soft cushions, it was now too small for the five of us, plus lots of company as we always seem to have people over, and the cats had shredded it. I had my eye on these more traditional looking, English sofas - you know the ones with short roll arms, looking like you just want to cuddle up with a cup of tea? Yeah, those. Quite far from where I come from - where everything had to be modern and clean, and have straight lines and light colours.

 

Really, this whole decorating journey has been one of settling scores with my past, and accepting myself and my own preferences. We looked at pricier ones, but in the end, IKEA won out, the one called Stocksund. It had the right look and feel, and when the cats have scratched the sides, and the kids have spilled things we can't get rid off, we can simply buy a new cover. Also, it was cheap enough that buying two of them to have opposite each other wouldn't break the bank.

Part of our living room IKEA Stocksund sofa and IKEA Vittsjo hacked coffee table

And with our new sofas in place, our old coffee table didn't work. At first I searched the auction houses, but I couldn't find anything close to what I wanted - all the tables were too high or too wide, so we went back to IKEA, and bought a cheap nesting table called Vittsjo. Ilir saw the glass top and looked at me as if I had lost my mind, but I had something different in mind. 

IKEA Vittsjo coffee table hacked with old looking wooden tops

Some plain pine cut to the right sizes, then beaten with chains and screws, a funny looking drill attachment with something resembling very coarse steel wool to get rid of the softest layer of wood, and then a concoction of vinegar and steel wool that I let seep for a few days. Finally I waxed the surface with dark wax, and now we have a table that will really take anything, while it's narrow (45 - 50 cm) enough to fit well between the two sofas. And when the kids grow up they will hopefully have some fun memories of me pounding the wood with chains and concocting awful smelling brews in the kitchen to dye the wood in a natural and non-toxic way. It wont be just another IKEA table, but something kind of unique that we made.

How I made old looking wood with vinegar and steel wool

I'm really happy we put the sofas opposite each other - it suddenly becomes a room for conversation, for spending time together, rather than a place to mindlessly watch TV. I love that I got the old fashioned, comfortable sofas in the dark fabric, and the dark wood to go with it. I love my brass lamps and details (brass was banished when I grew up, the only allowed metal was polished silver), and now when I come home and fall into one of the sofas, I feel comfortable, at ease. I've broken all the unspoken rules of my past, and by doing so I let my home become what I needed it to be, rather than what someone else thinks it should be.

The sofa part of our living room - IKEA Stocksund sofas, brass lamp from House Doctor and IKEA Vittsjo hacked sofa table

Strange how the mind works - I've really only ever had nesting / decorating instincts in two kinds of situations: when I've been pregnant and when I was told I'm dying... But there's a comfort in feeling that our home fills the functions that we need from it, that it's a place I can relax. I guess it's also a way of taking back some of what the cancer took from me - I can't have my house, but I can at least make sure the home we have is as lovely as possible. I can choose to not focus on the negatives, but create positive things to be happy about.


Juggling the square metres

by Hilla Duka - View comments

some of my favourites at home - fifties lamp and old school poster in black

Love the combination of my fifties lamp and old school poster of wheat on black!

It started as we came home from Paris. Filled with inspiration and team-feeling we started trying to clean up the flat after 48 hours of baby sitting. And after about three hours of cleaning and the house not looking any bit better, we sat down for a much needed break, and emergency council. Why was this not working?

 

As I’ve mentioned before, for rather morbid reasons we’ve decided to stay in our tiny flat in the nice area. But with two adults, three quite grown children (not to mention three cats) and a house with an open door policy, it’s getting cramped, crowded and impossible to tidy. It’s not that we’re insanely messy as people, more like we have no place for a lot of things, and as a result, they simply move from one spot to another, and the house just never feels clean.

some of my favourites at home - brass lamp and dr westerlund flower

One of my darlings that I hope not to kill: an old brass lamp standing on some of my favourite books, and a dr westerlund flower from my grandmother (one of the only things I have from her), that smells amazing if you rub the leaves!

Also, we don’t have places for everyone in the living room, resulting in someone (Ilir) sitting on the floor (this is not as cruel as it sounds, as for strange reasons relating to his origin, he’s surprisingly fond of sitting on the floor, but still - I’d prefer having enough seating), and finding a spot to do homework is a nightmare.

 

Before I showed you our kids room solution with a triple bunk bed, and funnily enough those posts of the kids room are the most searched for and visited posts. Anyway, we’re pleased as punch with our kids room makeover, and so after a few futile attempts at quick fixes, we decided to treat the rest of the flat to the same makeover. Our goal for the summer is to make our two bedroom flat into a functional and beautiful home for five, where we’re often up to nine people. It sounds like close to impossible, but then again so did building a functional bed / playroom for three kids, but we managed that one, so I’m hopeful.

some of my favourites at home - snake plant and Ikea Stocksund sofa in dark gray

My favourite plant - a snake plant in a concrete flower pot - and new sofa, an IKEA Stocksund in dark gray (sooo comfy, but only fits three...)

There are no sacred cows here, no inside-the-box thinking allowed, and I’ll (try) to kill my darlings. I boost myself remembering how great the kids room turned out, but then I remember that this time it’s our bedroom, hallway, living room and kitchen. It’s figuring out spaces to eat, play, study, have alone-time and socialise with guests and family. That’s one tall order!

choosing the perfect greige wall colour

Trying to choose the perfect greige wall colour - can you see there are three different grays on that wall?

Anyway, I’m really chuffed we’re trying to stay in our flat, even if it might be a bit of a challenge finding solutions to all the different needs, but hopefully by the end of the summer we’ve made this work, and can start looking for summer houses as a reward! (That we in turn spend most of winter renovating...)


Valentines work

by Hilla Duka - View comments

fifties chair after restoration

You know someone truly loves you when they're prepared to spend Saturday refurbishing an old chair, just to make you happy.fifties chair before renovation

A while back, I bought this little fifties chair, that had definitely seen better days, with the plan to salvage what I could and give it new life. I love refurbishing old furniture, I feel like a detective peeling layer after layer off to see what's revealed underneath, then like a miracle doctor giving new life to a patient. Ilir however, does not share my fascination (obsession as he calls it), so for him to announce on Saturday morning "Right, lets get started then!" meant more to me than any amount of flowers. 

fifties chair legs during restoration

It took us most of the day, the front legs where lose, so we wriggled them out, applied new glue and tied together. 

painting the chair legs black

We scraped layer off of layer of crumbling paint, revealing water stained teak legs, that were then painted a matte black.

removing the fabric and padding from the old chair

Anyway, apart from the ickiness at times, it is now completely refurbished, and will see many more days in our living room! Way better than flowers and a card, right? 


our cat Dee looking suspicious

Our cats haven't really warmed to it yet, but I'm guessing it's just a matter of time before they scratch the new fabric off and find inventive new sleeping positions in/on it. And who knows, next time it might be one of my sons who refurbish it, shaking their heads and wondering what I was thinking...


More pics from the kids room

by Hilla Duka - View comments

bunk bed for three - how we solved having three kids in one room

Ok, complete image bonanza ahead - unless your interested in the eternal questions like How do you fit three kids into one room? you should completely ignore this. 

I get loads of really sweet feedback and questions on how we fixed the kids room so that it would sleep three kids and still have space to play, read, do homework or or just exist. Since I actually cleaned the flat AND had some sunlight, I thought I'd take a few pictures. Who knows, maybe they can inspire someone else to live a bit longer in a smaller place? 

 

closeup bunk bed for three - kids room

Milos corner, at the bottom of the bunk bed. His mattress is currently placed right on the floor, it's on our to-do list to get a proper slatted bed base for him as well. You know, we'll get to it eventually... it's a Someday-project.

The triple bunk bed is made of two IKEA Kura beds, one of which has had one half of its legs cut of, and the other half replaced with longer ones. We also added a few steps on the ladder, then painted the whole thing white. 

 

Bunk bed for three

Jonathan, on the top bed, has one long shelf, and then some extra storage on top of the shelves, which are secured against the bottom part of his bed. Jacob has a String shelf for personal storage, one filled with little boxes as he loves collecting things.

Shelf detail - london bus box

This little box I bought the first time I went to London, about twenty three years ago, and it was filled with sweets at the time. Jacob was wonderfully pleased when I gave it to him - so much so that he will now keep it just as it is, as a decoration rather than for actual storage. 

Shelf detail kids room teddy bear

Each of the boys has a teddy from Build A Bear, with my voice that tells them I love them very much (it's a bit of a cringe, but that's ok, sometimes). Though Jonathan thinks himself too old to actually have his teddy in bed, and instead keeps it on his shelf. 

reading nook in bottom part of the bunk bed

The reading nook next to Milos bed, where I will read bedtime stories and listen for the sound of them sleeping. The black wall is a piece of fabric I've stretched over the back of the two IKEA Hemnes shelves that are attached to the bed. Once or twice I've caught one of the boys curled up in the armchair with a book, so I will consider it a success. 

 

Now, if I only get around to cleaning their desk and shelves on the other side of the room, I can show some pictures of that as well. Oh well, another time.


The kids room part two

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Fullview

So I promised I would show the kids room once everything was ready, and I'm finally making good on my promise. As I started discussing in this post, for various reasons we'll continue to live in my small two bedroom flat in the nice area well suited for kids, rather than move to something bigger and further away, or get the house I was envisioning before I fell ill.

 

And in deciding to  stay, we needed to improve the room the boys share. They don't really mind sharing room, and I think in many ways it's good for them, but each needs his own space too, for his own things, his private hideaway. That's why we  planned and planned and came up with a new way of making the most of their room. The three story bunkbed of my dreams didn't pan out as the ceiling height is a mere 2,4 metres, but I came up with this alternative, which also provides a reading nook for when we put them to bed, or for when they want somewhere cosy to sit and read during the day. I say read, but they mainly use it for playing on their iphones.

cozy reading space

One of the walls in the reading nook consists of the back of two bookshelves, to make it prettier I’ve covered it with a fabric. The chair comes from Åhlens and the little table, that doubles as Milo’s storage space, comes from Kartell. Originally it functioned as my bedside table, but this way it fills a better function.

bunkbed for three with string shelf

All the boys have some sort of personal storage by their bed - Jacob got one of my old String shelves, and Jonathan got a shelf the length of his bed, though quite narrow so that he doesn’t bang his head on it at night. For now, the Kartell table will be Milos storage.

bunkbed for three with bookshelf

On the back of the reading nook are two IKEA shelves, soon to be brim full of kids books and toys they still want to play with. Mainly, they no longer play with toys, they play on the Xbox or the computer or the iphones/ ipads when they’re allowed, and then they read or they draw or paint. So much so, this christmas they got a crafts hamper (seen below their portraits above), filled with different material for their creative geniuses. They loved it, and I loved that I got to make good use of the hamper originally filled with goodness and sent by my lovely colleagues at the London office. Now it's filled with goodies once more, though this time not edible at all...

backpack storage

We really did end up using absolutely every bit of space in the room - behind the door the kids have hangers for their backpacks. They just about fit in the small space between the wall and the door. That's also the only place I would allow them to put this hiddeous Star Wars poster - this way, the only was it's seen is when they close the door. 

table and storage in kids room

On the other side of the room is two metres of shelf storage and a table for their computer and space to do homework. I honestly still cannot understand how we managed to fit all these functions in one 12mroom.

For this renovation, we really tried hard to be environmentally friendly and use what we had, buying only a minimum amount of new things, and then not buying plastic or easily breakable things. The only new things we got was Jonathans lamp, one of the bookshelf (we had one before), the armchair for reading, some supplies, wood and and the gray paint on the wall. It ended up costing us very little, apart from the time and effort it took to make, and the end result is such a drastic improvement on what they had before, I can’t help but be well pleased.


Building spaces

by Hilla Duka - View comments

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I’ve lived in this flat for longer than I’ve ever before lived in one house. In some ways I love it to bits, and in some ways… not so much. It’s a two bedroom flat, mainly planned for a couple with an extra room for guests or a small baby. As in one. One small baby. Definitely not three little tykes.

 

I switched rooms with the kids years ago, to give them the big bedroom, but thanks to a very bad layout of the room, even though it’s a decent size room, it’s been impossible to plan it for three kids. Or maybe it’s just that it’s really, really hard to fit three kids into one room. Still, I don’t buy into that whole idea that all kids must have their own room. I think everyone needs to have a space that is their own, but I remember how I loved to share rooms with my brother and was really upset when I had to move into a room of my own. And as adults we fall in love and move in and no one questions the idea that we should share bedrooms.

 

We’ve been looking at bigger flats and considered moving, but in order to stay in the same area, we would have to pay so much more money, it’s ridiculous. Basically we’d add one half income in living expenses, just to get one extra room, never mind two, and with me being ill and plans for the future being uncertain to say the least, it was just off the table. So, back to the drawing table it was. I knew there had to be some way to make it work, to give each child a space of their own, and still have some floor area left, and a place for them to do homework and draw and stuff. There just had to be some way to make it work.

I pride myself on being quite imaginative (amongst other things. I’m extremely good at priding myself in general), and able to think up clever solutions. Show time. Time to put my money where my mouth is. So I thought long and hard, and finally came up with this idea, which is basically like a bunk bed for three, but in two different directions. And then somehow (either I should have gone for a career in sales or he must really love me) I convinced Ilir to build it. I felt pathetically old fashioned gender wise here, but since I these days I’m ridiculously weak, it really did feel safer to let him handle the building bit.

 

 

The plan was almost too simple - take two of IKEA’s most popular tiny bunk beds, and then put one on top of the other. Basically, sawing a bit here and changing a bit there for a longer one - or so I thought. It took an entire day, and then some. But the end result is great. We still have some work planned for next weekend (I’m lying, we have enough on our my todo list to keep us occupied until the end of next year - by which point I will have a whole new todo list) - painting the whole thing (and the walls) and finding a small arm chair for the cozy corner and generally making a hell of a lot of hygge in there, but at least now I can see where it’s going, which feels great. A few steps closer to the goal - making sure that all the kids have their own space, whilst not breaking our bank account or moving to a cheaper neighbourhood.

bunk bed for three kids room ikea hacks
 
As you can see, still a long way to go before it's interior-decorating-magazine ready, but you get the general idea. One, two, three kids sleeping on top of each other. Floor space. There's a desk and stuff too, on the other side of the room. Very organised. I'll show it to you when it's all painted!
 
 

Hygge

by Hilla Duka - View comments

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There’s a danish word Hygge: it means something along the lines of cosy and comfortable. My brother told me about this word as he joked that this is what I’ve become obsessed with: making hygge. I think he’s right in a way: Since I took ill, I’ve become much more interested in decorating, and the changes at least when it comes to direction and style are quite clear.

I grew up with a dad who was a newly graduated architect - keen to put his mark on the world and with very strong ideas about what was good design. Things were supposed to be modern and clean, no extra adornments anywhere. The walls had Pablo Picasso prints, and Théo Tobiasse lithographies. Modern, modern, modern. How very strange that I wanted something completely different. And a long time it took me to admit even to myself that I liked the complete opposite - old furniture and pillows with flowers on them. It wasn’t until I got the very real reminder that I didn’t have forever to grow into myself that I decided to not care that I was supposed to like polished steel and modern lines, and thus threw it out. Now, I only put into my house what I really like - and I don’t really give a damn what anyone thinks of my style - because it makes me happy.

 

And in the evenings I light candles and make as much hygge as I possibly can, and I cuddle up with the kids in the sofa and feel my heart lift with gratitude that I got this day as well, this love too.

 

This round of chemo has been so hard emotionally, so taxing. At times I fill with this vast sadness, how much I hate this illness, how fervently I wish I could be well again. When nothing else helps, lighting some candles, cooking something nice and making hygge seems like a good way to at least try harder to enjoy the present.