When the woman behind the Style Me Sunday blog and Instagram account renovated the home she shares with her husband and their two daughters, it was always going to make a statement. It’s one of fun, safety and love, finds Jessica Jonzen
NATALIE LEE IN HER KITCHEN IN WANSTEAD, WITH HOBY THE GOLDEN RETRIEVER AND DINKY THE RESCUE CAT. ALL IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
The bright spring morning that I spent at Natalie Lee’s home at the beginning of March for our shoot already feels like a lifetime ago. Little did we know, as we chatted, laughed and drank coffee together in her beautiful Victorian terraced house, what was to come – or that those little moments of human interaction which we all took for granted would now feel so distant.
“It feels like that was a different world,” Natalie says when we speak just a week later, when social distancing had been introduced but before the Coronavirus pandemic had led to a full lockdown. “It just feels so out of our control. It is very strange but I’m managing to stay positive at the moment and I’ve really noticed much more community spirit – that’s the great side of it.”
This time last year, Natalie and her husband, Matt, were just beginning the six-month renovation of the home they share with their daughters Alexa, ten, and seven-year-old Autumn, their Golden Retriever, Hoby, and cats Dinky and Prissy. They extended the back of the house into the side return and out into the garden to create a bright, characterful kitchen which has now really come into its own.
(TOP IMAGE:) ARTWORK FROM PRINT CLUB LONDON BRINGS PUNCHES OF BOLD COLOUR TO THE WHITE AND PASTEL SCHEME; (BOTTOM LEFT:) NATALIE LEE (BOTTOM RIGHT:) THE DINING TABLE FROM MADE.COM MAKES FOR A SUNNY SPOT TO WORK FROM. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
“I’m so relieved we’ve had the work done, especially now that we’re at home all the time – it’s so nice to have the room to just be together,” says Natalie. “It didn’t feel like there was a space where we could all sit comfortably in one place before and it was all a bit dark and depressing. It feels a lot more joyous now.”
Seeking out positivity is Natalie’s MO. As the woman behind the Style Me Sunday blog and Instagram account, the Warrior Woman Project, Feeling Myself events and The Everything Project podcast, Natalie is known for celebrating women and their bodies, and for nurturing supportive communities both online and off. It’s no surprise to discover that Natalie was originally a midwife before she launched her blog in 2012.
Natalie and Matt moved to their home in Wanstead, East London, in 2009 when she was pregnant with Alexa. “We’d been living in Barnet because I worked at the hospital there, but we wanted to move somewhere with green space and more of a community feel,” says Natalie. “We visited on a really hot day and I remember walking down the high street and there being lots of people sitting outside the cafés and seeing so many young families and it felt like the perfect place for us. It helped me to make friends when I had my children because there were always groups and things to go to. Motherhood can be quite lonely.”
NATALIE’S KITCHEN UNITS COME FROM IKEA WITH LILAC DOORS FROM SUPERFRONT. THE CHUNKY CONCRETE ISLAND IS SOFTENED WITH PINK, WHITE AND LILAC PAINT EFFECTS AND WAS HAND CAST BY SMITH & GOAT. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
Natalie also fell for the house’s abundance of period features, including ornate cornicing and original fireplaces, and she liked that there was scope to extend the ground floor. Busy with a young family, Natalie and Matt put the work off and then when Alexa was five-years-old, life as they knew it changed forever. Having had apparent problems with her eyesight since birth, Alexa was diagnosed with Brittle Cornea Syndrome, a rare genetic condition which is causing her sight to rapidly deteriorate.
“Alexa’s diagnosis was brutal – we kind of went into shock,” says Natalie. “There were a lot of feelings of grief because you unconsciously attach a lot of ideas about the future and there are things you expect to happen, like teaching your kids how to drive a car, or them being able to do whatever job they want to do. It’s almost like your future has been re-written. My husband really struggled with the fact that this was one thing that he couldn’t protect her from and that was difficult for him to come to terms with.”
I feel that so often everyone ends up compromising with the design of their homes and then nobody gets what they want. Luckily we were happy with it – you’ve got to be true to your own taste.”
When Natalie and Matt finally felt they had the emotional capacity to take on the building work, Alexa’s impaired vision was an essential factor in their brief to their architect. “Having lots of wide, open spaces was really crucial for us and there couldn’t be any low-level obstacles,” says Natalie. “We wanted there to be room for the girls to run around and for Autumn to be able to wear her roller skates! We also chose steel doors to make sure there wasn’t a wide expanse of glass, because for someone with visual impairment it’s really difficult for them to tell whether there’s glass there or not.”
Natalie also wanted to be creative with the space. “I’ve always been very influenced by the Palm Springs aesthetic and knew that I wanted those pinks and lilac colours in my kitchen with accents of gold as well.” Was that tricky to get past Matt? “We had a lot of discussions, shall we say!” Natalie laughs. “I said to him: ‘if we’re going to compromise on everything then it’s going to end up looking like everyone else’s houses and be fairly bland. I don’t know how many times I’m going to get to do this and I really want to be creative and see whether I do have an eye for design or not so let’s just go for something,’” she says. “I feel that so often everyone ends up compromising and then nobody gets what they want. Luckily we were happy with it – you’ve got to be true to your own taste.”
(TOP IMAGE:) THE SITTING ROOM IS A COSY SPACE FOR RELAXING IN THE EVENINGS; (BOTTOM LEFT:) A PIECE OF ART BY LOUISE DEAR HANGS OVER THE VELVET SOFA; (BOTTOM RIGHT:) DINKY THE CAT COSIES UP IN THE HANGING CHAIR OVERLOOKING THE KITCHEN. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
The work took six months and the family moved out for two of them. “It was a huge undertaking and I think people have to think really carefully about whether they have the capacity to start a project like this. “It wasn’t finished when we moved back in. It was dusty and we had to live upstairs, microwaving our meals in one of the girls’ bedrooms – it was horrendous!”
It was worth it, though. The result is a bright and light home which brims with character and really works for them as a family. The run of kitchen units are from Ikea with the lilac doors and gold knobs from Superfront. “The texture of the pattern on the doors is helpful for Alexa, and we needed to have knobs rather than push doors because that would be difficult for her to access,” says Natalie. “Because we’ve lived with it for so long now it’s difficult to know which things we’ve actually adapted for her.”
The chunky hand cast concrete island, made by Smith & Goat, has rounded edges to make it child-friendly, and the mottled pink paint effect softens the look. The local family-run business also made the pink concrete work tops, while the terrazzo tiles from Mosaic Factory add pattern and interest. The feminine colours in the kitchen are toughened up with clean white paint on the brick wall, while exposed beams, industrial-style lighting and the steel doors from Fabco lend a masculine edge.
(TOP IMAGE:) NATALIE LEE IN HER KITCHEN; (BOTTOM LEFT) THE MESSAGE NATALIE’S HUSBAND WROTE FOR THEIR DAUGHTERS ON THE FRONT DOOR; (MIDDLE:) THE DOWNSTAIRS LOO FEATURES WALLPAPER BY CHRISTIAN LACROIX FROM JOHN LEWIS; (BOTTOM RIGHT:) A MATHIEU CHALLIÈRES BIRD CAGE PENDANT LIGHT HANGS IN THE LIVING AREA. IMAGES: WENDY ALDISS PHOTOGRAPHY
While the kitchen is now the beating heart of their home, Natalie was keen to make sure that the sitting room was a cosy and inviting space for the evenings. “I always wanted to use a darker colour for the sitting room because that’s where we are in the evening, with an open fire and getting all cosy with the family and cuddling up.” A piece of art by Louise Dear sits over the the velvet sofa. “I bought it for Matt for his birthday, but it was one of those presents where it was really for me!” The deep navy sitting room leads into a another sitting area painted in Powdered Clay by Crown Paints, and Natalie had a hanging chair installed which overlooks the kitchen. “That area is about a feeling, about creating a safe place where it’s kind of sheltered from the outside world. It quickly became Alexa’s space and she loves to sit there. I like to create spaces that go on a feeling.”
In the hallway, turquoise and white patterned cement tiles from Mosaic Factory immediately lift the spirits, while the message Matt wrote for Alexa and Autumn on the inside of the front door shows that this is a home full of love. “It says ‘what’s one thing you love about you?’ – he’s just really keen, like I am, to get the girls to think about ways in which they love themselves and building their self-esteem and confidence – it’s a really big priority for both of us,” says Natalie.
My home is my safe place: it signifies family and togetherness and also fun. Safety is probably the most important word that comes to mind.”
Theirs is a home which not only speaks of their creativity, but of their bond as a family. “My home is my safe place: it signifies family and togetherness and also fun. Safety is probably the most important word that comes to mind,” says Natalie. “I had a very turbulent childhood and I always think that feeling safe, having a safe place, boundaries and routine are what I understand to be really important to my children and that’s what I project onto them, but maybe that’s a reflection of my own childhood and the uncertainty and turmoil that I had as a kid.”
While there’s talk of extending the house into the loft at some point in the future, Natalie and Matt are in no rush. “We’ve kind of got renovation fatigue now! We’re just so happy with what we have downstairs now,” she says. “It’s both of our 40th birthdays this year so once we’re out of all this we’re going to have a big party here.” What a life affirming party that will be.
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