My new baby is destroying my perfect designer home
Design-freak-turned-new-mother Fiona Rattray's life may never be the same again, but whose home sure as hell will be
Sunday 30 March 2008
By the time my daughter, Harper, was eventually born, I had used every kind of pain relief available. The attentive hospital staff had rigged up every blinking gadget going, and somewhere in a corner of that tiny room was a person with a red pen crossing through the requests on my "drug-free, home delivery" birth plan, laughing.
But as we cradled her blissfully in our arms, the midwife, doctor and nurses quietly going about their duties, there was one vital treatment they failed to administer. Somehow, someone, somewhere, forgot to give me the pill from the bottle whose label read: "You've just had a baby, from now on your aversion to all things cute, cuddly or smothered in teddy bear pattern will be forgotten. Go forth and spend a fortune on useless furnishings and ugly-coloured plastic items. Everything you thought you knew about how 'you wanted your home to look is wrong. Oh, and if it's a girl, prepare to like pink."
This then, is the diary of the design-freak-turned-new-mother, who was given a baby, but not the "right" pill, and whose life may never be the same again, but whose home sure as hell will be.
January 2007, New York
It's not how I'd normally spend a week's holiday in one of the world's most fun cities, but since I'm pregnant and can't drink cocktails, here I am in the basement of the Buy Buy Baby (see what they did there?) megastore on 7th Avenue looking at cots. Already, I'm rather taken with the dinky, wrought-iron-alike hanging basket arrangement that would be perfect for a flower fairy but might look a bit out of place in the mid-century-modern-shabby-chic-Scandi look of our small spare-bedroom. The alternative seems to be either a faux-antique the size of a small rowing boat, and about as solid looking, or a strange innovation I've never seen before: the sideways-on cot. It's as if someone has taken a big wooden sleigh bed and sawn off most of the mattress.
Still, the trip is not entirely wasted: in the MoMA café we spot the highchair of our dreams. It's a wooden Tripp Trapp by Stokke – the classic, Norwegian design from the 1970s. There's no gunk-collecting tray, and as the baby grows you adjust the height until finally it becomes a chair. I've only ever seen it in dark or pale wood and red, but here they have it in black – just like the Eames House-inspired window frames in our dining-room...
April 2007, Mothercare, Edmonton, London
I am fast learning to loathe this store. The plain white cot I'd seen on the internet and thought we could live with looks so shoddy in the flesh I resolve to try eBay. I soon find exactly what I'm looking for – an only slightly secondhand specimen with pretty turned-wood bars and the right degree of transparency (thick bars and solid ends make a cot look far bigger) that blends in perfectly.
April 2007, John Lewis, Oxford Street, London
On the lookout for a baby bouncer (a chair, not a tough-looking little person). This being John Lewis I am assuming I can find something neutral, but I am so wrong. There are several to choose from, each more hideous than the next. Most are so overloaded with patterns, padding and in some cases all-singing, all-dancing toys and battery-operated rocking motions, I'm not sure there's room for a baby. As if that wasn't alarming enough, nearby is an entire wall of weird nightdress/sleeping-bag hybrids, each adorned with some dim-witted, soppy motif. Since I don't want my baby growing up thinking it's a mermaid, these join the long list of "essential" baby equipment innovations – think changing tables and scented nappy pails – we won't be buying.
May 2007, Camden High Street, London
On my way back from a visit to the midwife, through the window of a charity shop I spot a navy, candy-stripe-cotton baby bouncer with a simple metal frame. It looks about 10 years old and could use a wash but it is a) neutral, b) at least a zillion times nicer than anything else I've seen, and c) £3.99. Me and my bump clamber on to the bus with it, happy.
June 2007, London
The baby has arrived. Some new-parent friends turn up with a boot-load of gadgets they've already finished with. One is a giant, brightly coloured inflatable ring for when the baby starts sitting up. We take one look at our hard wooden floor and our daughter's soft head, and stow it in the loft. We'll manage with cushions.
October 2007, Mothercare, Oxford Street, London
Harper is fast outgrowing the bathroom sink and our old, cast-iron bath is too deep, so it's back to Mothercare for a baby bath. Online, I was tempted by the practical white number that sits on top of your bath. Unfortunately, in the flesh the object in question has all the elegance of a plastic garden pond. I'm not paying £20 to ruin one of my favourite rooms, so it's back to the sink and hope she doesn't grow any more...
October 2007, London
Time for solid food. In a hurry, I buy lurid blue and green plastic baby spoons. I think they use plastic because it's soft, but turns out it's also bulky. The bowl of the spoon is so thick it barely fits in her mouth, and so shallow there's scarcely any food on it. I grab one of my Doshi Levien for Habitat coffee spoons instead. Perfect.
November 2007, Kidderminster, Worcestershire
Charity shops to the rescue again. Away with no bath in the rental cottage and the kitchen sink too tight a squeeze, we're desperate. Then, joy of joys, I find a shapely secondhand white baby bath that will look great at home. Even better, the duck stickers on the side peel straight off. (For months I'm convinced this is another "vintage" find, until I stumble across it on the Mothercare website. How did I miss it? Those wretched ducks must have blinded me.)
December 2007, London
The black highchair has arrived. It is beautiful. The baby is beautiful. The baby looks beautiful in it. More importantly, the room still looks beautiful.
March 2008, London
Harper has discovered the art of bashing using a sweet little wooden 2CV with red wheels. Trouble is, it's our Barber Osgerby Loop coffee table she's chosen to practice on. The plywood surface now has several deep dents on it. I thought I would mind about this stuff, but I honestly don't. This is family life and I love it. The toy car in question, meanwhile, has mysteriously migrated to another room...
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