The founder of genius gifting service Don’t Buy Her Flowers tells us about (real) life at home with her husband, Doug, and their three children, Buster, Mabel and Frank, in St Margarets
STEPH DOUGLAS AT HOME. IMAGE: EMILY GRAY PHOTO
Why do you live where you live?
We live in St Margarets, between Richmond and Twickenham. We always lived in South West London – Clapham Junction and Hammersmith. Doug used to play rugby and spent lots of time in Richmond so suggested it. I came to look on a sunny day and we walked around Richmond Park and I was sold. We moved into a rental in Richmond in 2010 with horrific hangovers, the day after a massive party for Doug’s 30th. Those were the days before we all had kids and we would drink all day with gay abandon… I was actually in the first week of pregnancy but didn’t know.
When we wanted to buy a house, we just found it was so expensive. Doug was driving through St Margarets, which is next door to Richmond, and stopped at an estate agent, picked up a flier about a house and it was the one. It has three bedrooms and three floors and we only had one baby so it felt like a palace.
We’ve outgrown it now and have been looking to move but everything seems to be at a standstill with Brexit. We plan to stay in the area – we’ve done the whole ‘moving to the countryside’ debate but it suits our jobs, Buster and Mabel are settled in an amazing school, and we’ve just reached the point where we bump in to people we know and feel part of a community.
What’s the first thing you did to your home when you moved in?
We painted Buster’s room – he was was seven months old, and also the kitchen a bright green which is still there. As it looks like we’re staying here a while longer we’re just sorting plans to redecorate some rooms as some of it looks really tired! We’ve had another two kids and started a business since living here so making it beautiful just hasn’t been a priority, which is at odds with these Insta-perfect times we’re living in!
We’ve reached the point where we bump in to people we know and feel part of a community.”
What’s on your bedside table?
Ear plugs and an eye mask because I go to bed like Mariah Carey! Plus lip balm, hand cream, tissues and probably at least two dirty mugs. I’m currently reading Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive (it’s brilliant) and there’s also a 20+ book tower stacked on the floor next to it.
What are some of the most memorable things to have happened in your home?
I’ve brought two babies home here! I also worked on the idea for Don’t Buy Her Flowers from the kitchen table, and then ran the business from the house for two years. Buster and Mabel shared bunk beds in a box room and we had stock tucked in corners all over the house. It was a great day when we got our warehouse, moved the business out and got our house back.
What has it been like starting and running a business from home and how do you separate your working day from family time?
It was really challenging. Those first two years of running a business were all consuming – I’ve since realised they basically have to be. It takes hard graft to get something off the ground and it’s really difficult to separate work and life at that stage. About nine months in, I found I was spending all the time packing orders which meant I wasn’t focused on the things that grow the business, so I had two students that used to come after college to pack boxes. It was a means to an end and meant our overheads were low while we grew, but I also had two small kids in the house so it was chaos.
The warehouse is now in Gloucestershire and the team there manage all the operations. One of my brothers is Head of Ops and two of my best mates from school work with us. We have freelancers for accounts and social media and marketing. Having a team has changed everything – when I was doing all the roles it was incredibly hard to switch off. The balance is a bit better now – I have to remind myself that I’m in charge and I set the deadlines, so I can also move them. That said, I am also responsible for ensuring the business is successful and we can pay salaries so it’s always there!
IMAGE: EMILY GRAY PHOTO
What was your childhood home like?
When I was three, we moved to an eight bedroom Victorian house in Stroud that we lived in until I was 17. That’s where most of my childhood memories are. Dad was a solicitor, and became a vicar when I was 11, and mum was a nurse. They bought this big house because they wanted to foster children, in addition to the four of us, which strikes me as mental now I’m a parent of three. They felt that they could give more, they wanted to help people and they are special.
It was noisy and quite hectic, with lots of laughing and also lots of slamming doors through that dramatic storming out phase, and we always had big dogs. The best one was Wally, a black retriever who licked everyone. When I hit 15 or 16, mine was the house all my mates came to and we’d sneak vodka and Malibu up to my room and get smashed before we went out. I was the fourth kid so the rules had relaxed somewhat by then.
What’s your domestic guilty secret or pet hate?
I do no cleaning in between the cleaner coming once a week… I can just about keep on top of the revolving dishwasher and washing machine. My standards are low because they have to be – without sounding like a wanker, I get people asking how I ‘do it all’ – the business and three kids. Basically, it’s by having very low domestic standards because we can’t do it all!
Family time, the business and getting some exercise come before cleaning the house. But it does feel overwhelming sometimes and I’m known to shout ‘we are not students!’ when it gets too much, so we’re looking to outsource something. I don’t know what but after having the same row over and over, we’ve accepted that neither of us can ‘do’ more. I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a princess but I think it’s important to be honest because otherwise we’re promoting a lie – Christine Armstrong’s recent book ‘The Mother of all Jobs’ discusses this!
My parents bought this big house because they wanted to foster children, in addition to the four of us, which strikes me as mental now I’m a parent of three. They felt that they could give more, they wanted to help people and they are special.”
What’s at the bottom of your garden?
My office! We had it built just before Frank was born and it’s great to have a space outside of the house, and essentially gives us another room
What makes your house a home?
The chaos and the kitchen discos. It’s the place where everyone feels safest and happiest. It’s the people really – my little family.
If you’re looking for something for Mother’s Day that your mum will really appreciate (or want to send a helpful hint to someone), Don’t Buy Her Flowers has launched The Unwind Package, a bespoke box of goodies with everything you could possibly need to relax – from lovely cotton PJs and a This Works pillow spray to face masks and a good book to name a few. Prices from £15 – £150+