+ Our New Kitchen Design

Our current kitchen

Before moving into our new flat, we were convinced that our first DIY job would be ripping up the flooring. We've inherited some Spanish villa-style tiles throughout the house - including the bedroom! In our first week living here we realised we'd overlooked a bigger issue. While the kitchen looks fine, there were a few deal breakers for us:

  • Our plates don't fit in ANY of the cupboards
  • The oven is so old that the rubber seal has stopped working and sags, leaving a gap which makes cooking that little bit harder.
  • The wall units are so low that our knife block barely fits underneath, and our coffee machine has to be pulled towards the edge of the worktop so that we can fill it!

Yep, some of these issues could be resolved with a handyman, but we figured popping into Funktional Kitchens for a free design service would help make our minds up. I love a more traditional, rustic kitchen whereas Ned's all about contemporary design - anything that would feel at home in a bachelor pad basically! The designer had his work cut out..

The Free Plan and Design Service

Andy at Funktional Kitchens sat us down for about an hour, talking through the options for units, appliances and asked us basic questions like "double, 1.5 or single sink?" We then sent through our floor plan and some photos so he could get to work on our digital mockup based on our choices, as you can see below:

Our first kitchen render

Once you're happy with the overall vision and want to discuss next steps prior to actually getting it installed, you hand over £500 as a deposit. Even better, you can also start to pick out accessories and flooring which Andy then helpfully inserted into the digital render. See below for our choice of trio pendant from Jim Lawrence. Andy then found similar lighting in his tool and sent us back a mock-up:

Digital render of trio pendant lighting in the kitchen design

Some Tips:

  • Everything will be itemized in the quotation. Take a look and see if there's any easy switches you can make yourself to cut costs. For example, Andy chose an awesome Siemens integrated microwave, but I found an even cheaper one online with a grill function.
  • Does each cupboard really have to be a functional unit? We saved ourselves several hundred quid by making an awkward corner unit a superficial panel. Every unit that had to be made to measure was considerably more expensive, so avoid these where you can.
  • Some accessories that seem luxurious and unnecessary are not always that expensive. We are getting a 6-bottle wine fridge to add a unique selling point and its ~£250

What We Chose:

The Cabinets - German supplier Häcker offer three different finishes in their Classic range, all at varying prices. We're opting for the mid-range (slightly better finish, less IKEA) in magnolia.

Wall Tiles for the Splashback - Shelter Island - Harbour View tiles from Fired Earth. It's nigh on impossible to find cheaper herringbone marble tiles from anywhere else despite searching relentlessly.
Fired Earth's Shelter Island Harbour view tiles (marble look/herringbone)

Floor tiles - Ca'Pietra Shepton Flagstones, via Tiles Etc, had the right shade of grey to make me swoon and enough rugged specks to please Ned. Our builder told us that slate tiles are a bugger to look after and that we're better off going for porcelain, but the look of these tiles is so spectacular its hard to listen to sensible advice.
Ca'Pietra Shepton Flagstones

The worktop - Against my better judgement, knowing full well all the oiling and extra care it requires, we're in love with Spëkva's range of wooden worktops. Ours will come in the Bavarian Wild finish. I was super sad that my dreams of an island kitchen wouldn't come to fruition in this flat, but Andy our designer really delivered with his 'peninsula' design, which is made from the same wood.

Chimney Extractor Hood - Initially we opted for a concealed extractor, but the more I looked at the initial designs, the more the main wall seemed to be OTT on the cupboards! Instead, I opted for the Siemens iQ300 chimney extractor. As you can see from the image below on the left, it really helps to break up the never-ending wall of units:

Kitchen with and without the chimney hood

The next step is to sign off each of the 'order of goods', pay 35% of the total cost and then wait until February when it will get installed. Funktional Kitchens don't actually install everything - they only do a dry fit. Be prepared to fork out an additional costs of ££££s to get the appliances plumbed in and any extra building work sorted too.

I'll update you in February when the work is complete!

+ Inspiration: 10 Desk Accessories

desk accessories inspiration

Yes! We finally own a flat! And aside from the sheer joy of knowing the home I live in is now (by way of a gigantic loan) mine, the most exciting thing is to have my own creative corner for project Jeni 2.0. Whenever I've had a spare minute from Googling new dishwashers and fridges, I've spent hours poring over desk accessories on Pinterest and blogs. Here's my top ten ideas that I hope will make my desk area an inspiring and unique place:

1) Personalized Pencils:

Make like Caroline Herrara and have a bunch of engraved, personalised pencils handy to doodle from. A snapshot of her desk (as seen in Vanity Fair) shows dozens of "CH" monogrammed pencils, but how about the uplifting message of "Worry Less & Laugh More", courtesy of DesignGem on Etsy?

2) Pencil Sharpener:

If it's good enough for Martha Stewart, it's good enough for me! Her desk has a beautiful vintage pencil sharpener, or you can opt for a modern one like this Alessi Kastor pencil sharpener.

3) Inspiring Art:

In the absence of daylight or a beautiful, awe-inspiring view,  you need something to remind you of what's outside of those four walls. Consider a print of planet earth or inspiring wall art on Pinterest.

4) Snack of Choice:

If you're in the fog of a creative episode, you might need a reminder to eat in the midst of it! How about a pack of your favourite snack?

5) Anglepoise:

This beautiful green Anglepoise desk lamp is perfect for ensuring your masterpiece is swimming in bright light. You can also see my lovely red one in the photo at the end of this blog post.

6) Buddha Ornament:

Bag a desktop buddha from Amazon and get the same effect as Sophia Bush, who attests that having one one her desk is a "great call to meditate when life gets stressful".

7) Plants:

Business Week has a great selection of plants that are ideal for the desk here. Snake plants drastically improve air quality after dark, and apparently ZZ plants are almost impossible to kill!

8) Books That Inspire You:

Right, so you don't actually have to read them every time you sit at your deskbut being surrounded by inspirational writings by your icons (be it Diane Von Forstenberg's The Woman I Wanted To Be, Stephen King's On Writing or perhaps the compendium of wisdom that is Letters of Note)  can help get you into the right mindset.

9) File It Away:

Yeah yeah yeah, we all have Dropbox, Google Drive and can store our files on our laptops, but nothing makes you feel organized than paper copies and documentation you can touch. Get some gorgeous filing cabinets by Bisley like this red cabinet.

10) Your Pet:

My preferred choice is a cute cat not unlike my very own Chickpea :) She loves lazing about on my desk as you can see below.

Chickpea the cat on my desk, next to my red Anglepoise

+ 10 Lessons of a First-Time Buyer

For the past five months, my boyfriend and I have been in an emotional whirlwind of failing to buy one property and (in the end successfully) purchasing another. While we had both said we wanted to buy a place together in the near future, it was my drunken clicking of the "arrange a viewing" button for a place we both loved that sped up the process slightly! Long story short, the flat we tried to buy between March-June ended up being a no-go, so I wanted to share my learnings with other first-time buyers, specifically in the bubble that is the London property market.

1) Be Head Over Heart, Not Head Over Heels

When Ned and I viewed the first flat of our dreams, where we saw warning signs we instead saw 'quirkiness' and 'character'. It was only after a supremely negative mortgage valuation and a super-expensive but thorough homebuyers' report that our cute coal vault/bedroom became quite obviously a barely legal spare storage cupboard.

We had so wanted to believe that all the little doubts in our minds were just first-time buyer nerves, but now we realize we should have thought with our heads and not our hearts. Ideally, walk around with the surveyor at the time of the homebuyers' report. This really helped to bring the report to life for us. I'd recommend choosing Gerry Brown (gb[at]consultantsurveyor.co.uk). He's pricey but we trust him 100%!

2) It's Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings

Our estate agent emailed us saying "I am just waiting for [the seller] to confirm the date for completion. When it is, I will email both solicitors and let them know that’s the agreed completion date." This all sounded fabulous, but we didn't 100% realize what was around the corner.

The day of exchange/completion came upon us, and ONLY THEN did we find out that our solicitor's queries had been ignored and instead a proposal was put forward for an "indemnity policy"... roll on lesson #3!

3) Be Wary of Indemnity Policies

The flat we wanted to buy had works done to it that were never signed off by building control. This essentially made the second 'bedroom' invalid and brought with it the risk of the local council asking us, as the new owners, to be financially liable for either completely re-doing it and (even worse) stopping us from making any further improvements to that part of the flat. For example, even trying to apply to the council to make the room legal would have INVALIDATED our mortgage. This means we were effectively buying a 1-bedroom flat for a 2-bed price. Also, most policies only protect your mortgage lender and not you so be very careful when agreeing to one!

4) Don't Hand Your Rental Notice in UNTIL Completion

At the end of May, we had no reason to suspect that the flat purchase would hit an obstacle. Yes, the seller's solicitors were taking a frigging age to answer the pressing issues my solicitor had raised, but we thought was standard practice. We tried to create a buffer of over 3 weeks between us completing and the confirmed end of our rental contract.

This would have been great if we had completed the flat purchase. But instead, the estate agents had already found a replacement couple for our flat and so we effectively were due to be homeless. If you learn one thing from our mistakes, just cough up the extra rent and don't make yourself homeless!

5) Consider Getting a 'Mortgage Agreement in Principle'

Before we had even placed an offer, we got an "Decision in Principle" arranged over the phone for us with London & Country Mortgages. What's great about them is they offer free, impartial advice and can serve as a broker with (seemingly anyway) your best interests in mind.

Yes, the estate agent will still ask to speak to you and go through details to substantiate your offer, but having this agreement a) helps clarify what your best offer can be and b) should put you  in a stronger position if you're up against another buyer with no financial details ready to share.

6) Sign up for a 30-day free trial with Experian

I had no idea how many addresses were attached to my name until I had a free trial with Experian. It was also really useful to trawl through Money Saving Expert's website for tips on how to boost your credit rating.

7) Instant Property Alerts Are Your Best Friend

A London property can be under offer in just a couple of days, so you really need to have your wits about you when searching for prospective homes. Some estate agents deliberately withhold their listings from Zoopla and Right Move, so it's best to also sign up to the dominant agents in your area as well as the big search sites.

Other good sources of new properties are Tepilo (quality over quantity!), Prime Location and On The Market.

8) Know your LTV Ratio

A mere 1-5% difference in your loan-to-value ratio can open up vastly different interest rates from the big lenders. If you have any spare cash at your disposal (e.g. selling shares, waiting for a few more paychecks until you buy to fatten your deposit) my advice is to put as much as possible into the mortgage. Obviously, you'll need to ensure you have money left over to actually maintain your beautiful new home, but it's worth checking with the lender how even an extra £1000 deposit could change your mortgage terms.

9) Keep Your Mouth Shut

During one viewing, I was very open with the seller about our situation "oh yeah, we pulled out of our other property" and "we're just in the process of sorting out a different mortgage now based on a different deposit".... in hindsight, you should really be selective in terms of what you say to the seller as it can completely change their opinion of you. If in doubt, pipe down!

10) Be Cautious of Requests for Cold Hard Cash

We had placed an offer on a different property via Hampton's in London, and as this sale was in a chain of 4/5 other properties, they told us in no uncertain terms that we'd need to be willing to put down a £5000 payment ASAP. This was without any guarantees of getting it back should something happen outside of our control, and zero paperwork to sign. In the end, not immediately pandering to their requests cost us the flat as another couple were willing to cough up, but I'm glad we were cautious and didn't sign away a big chunk of our deposit without any guarantees.

+ 10 of the Best Dressing Tables

10 of the best dressing tables via Jeniwren.com

An offer has been accepted on a flat we very much love so I'm so very, very close to being a legit homeowner. I'm getting ahead of myself and have already mapped out a perfect use-case for the corner in the master bedroom... a make-up station, vanity table and writing desk, of course! I wanted to share some of the top vanity/dressing tables I've found, all of which are available in the UK:

1)  I've pretty much settled on this Hemingway desk from Swoon Station. It's so beautiful and even has two pull-out 'runners' to maximise surface space. Better still, it matches the Brunel wardrobe I bought from Heal's a while back:
Hemingway writing/dressing table from Swoon Editions

2) Made-to-order Dressing Table from Tobias and the Angel. You can customize to have shelves or no shelves, and get it painted in colours/styles of your choice:
made to order desk/dressing table from Tobias and the Angel

3) Willis and Gambier Lyon Dressing Table from John Lewis. This is super traditional, and if I bought this I'd probably replaced the handles with something a bit more contemporary to add some character to it:
Wills and Gambier Lyon Dressing Table

4) Emil birch dressing table from Habitat UK. I am a stickler for organization, and having so many drawers to categorize my make-up, toiletries and jewellery would be easy as pie with this table:
Emil birch dressing table from Habitat UK

5) Montana Console Table from Heal's. Pretty understated, but you could easily add drawer dividers and maybe add a desk pedestal underneath to add some more storage options:
Heal's Montana Console Table

6) Venus Dressing Table from Chaplin's. During my search for a dressing table it was pretty rare to find one with a pre-installed mirror and a lid to expand the storage available to you. This table does just that, but the curved design wouldn't necessarily go with my future bedroom:
Venus dressing table from Chaplin's

7) Fleur Dressing Table from Cox and Cox. Firstly, this retailer is my go-to destination for homewares,  spend far too much money there! I really love this dressing table because of the ornate detailing around the legs:
Fleur dressing table from Cox & Cox

8) Malm dressing table from IKEA. These blog posts here and here have some incredible tips (including a video) on how to transform this table into the make-up station a make-up artist would be proud of!
Malm dressing table from IKEA

9) Carter Dressing Table from Dwell.co.uk. Again, I love the idea of a lid I can flip up when I need to, so that everything is close at hand but doesn't look too messy the rest of the time:
Carter dressing table from Dwell

10) Venetian mirrored dressing table, available at Amazon.co.uk. I am not brave enough to buy mirrored furniture (and it doesn't particularly go with my boyfriend's minimalise style) but if I ever live in a palace-like mansion I'll consider this one!

My Picks for Vanity chairs and Stools:
Lille Armchair from Swoon Station
Lille armchair in oatmeal from Swoon Station

Rouen Stool, also from Swoon Station
Rouen Stool in Grape from Swoon Station

Jade Swivel Chair from Wayfair.co.uk
Jade Swivel Chair