Monday, 22 February 2016

My month of living in Airbnbs

Thanks for the friendly note, guys.
We have just got back from an epic trip to the States – a month in Miami, the Florida keys, and glorious Los Angeles. We spent most of that month in Airbnbs, and had some wildly varying experiences, that I thought I would share with you.

I’ve always been a big proponent of the sharing economy. As soon as the internet was accessible at home I used to fire up my blue iMac G3 (miss that thing!), listen to the squeaky dial-up and log on to forums to do things like swap makeup. I was apartment swapping before it was even a thing (I swapped my basement flat for a private island in Miami, using US Craigslist!). So when airbnb dropped I was naturally all over it.

I consider myself a veteran airbnber now, having used the site – I’ve just checked – twenty times. Apparently 3.1m of us Brits have airbnbed at least once. But how did a month of staying mainly in airbnbs go down? Our budget was capped at around $125 per night, as we were away for a month and are not made of money, as my Grandma would have said.

Our first stop was Miami. Accommodation in Miami Beach itself is pretty expensive as it's a relatively small area. We left booking until about three weeks before our trip, so choice was pretty limited. We arrived in Miami around 9pm, following a long-haul flight with a 3 year old. The flight was OK and the transfer from airport to South Beach is pretty easy, but by 9pm (2am in the UK) we were ready to check in and in need of a chill.

Unfortunately as soon as we got into the building, it was apparent that this apartment was not going to be luxe. This apartment was pretty well situated between South Beach and the Marina (which I personally love – Monty’s raw bar ftw!). However, the apartment wasn’t scrupulously clean (dirty bath mat on the floor, barf), had a cracked window pane (couple of floors up on a main road, so not a massive security issue), but worst of all the bed sheet was loosely tied over the supersoft mattress – weird, and uncomfortable.

We didn’t sleep well, and on the second day discovered the shower didn’t work. It was apparent that the apartment was run by a letting agent and not an individual, and after expensive phone calls, an assistant came to fix it, but all in all, we could have done without it. So, our Miami Airbnb scored a 3/10 from me.

After 5 nights we moved on to the Florida Keys where thankfully we had a Hyatt booked for five nights, as suitable airbnb accommodation was scarce in the Keys. We were really glad to go to a hotel after that first airbnb – crisp sheets! breakfast! – and as we hadn’t booked further accommodation for our trip at that point it made us wonder whether we should consider hotels going forward. However, when you're travelling with kids, apartments work much better – access to kitchen, a living room to chill out in after they’ve gone to bed, etc, etc.

From the Keys we flew to LA, where we stayed 3 nights with a friend (in a TO DIE FOR Venice pad, but that’s a whole ‘nother story) and from there looked for our next Airbnb. After booking one place, the guy oddly cancelled on us later that evening, then took a while to refund our money – not ideal. We tried to book another place but the guy didn’t accept our booking, so we settled on a place we weren't sure about which turned out to be awesome; a lovely lady who lived in Venice and had a couple of guesthouses attached to her house, based around an outside living room.

This place was a dream; fridge and kitchen stocked with unnecessarily lovely stuff (sourdough muffins! Peach jam!). The sweetest ever baby bed had been made up for Arthur, boxes of toys, every possible small thing thought of. (Nail files, piles of magazines and books.) This reminded me of why I love airbnb and apartment swapping – done right, it is lovely, and you really feel like a guest in someone's home.

After our nailbiting time of booking our Venice property, we immediately looked for our next place – we wanted to go east and spend some time in Silver Lake, Echo Park, and visit Griffiths Park and that side of town. We found a place whose pictures looked nice,  and had good reviews and some outdoors space, so jumped on it, and got a friendly reply about our son being welcome to use their son’s treehouse. Hurray!

However, again upon arrival we were slightly disappointed. The apartment was quite dark, the balcony didn’t have a great view (in an area that does great views, as it’s perched high in the hills). And worst of all for us, there was a lot of noise from above – footsteps, banging, loud music… Basically what we were trying to escape on holiday!

Along with quite arsey instructions about keeping the place tidy or we wouldn’t get our deposit back, we didn’t feel massively at home there, and when travelling with a child you’re home in the evenings, so that is important. A bit of a let down on that one.

We decided for our last stop we wanted to go high into the hills above LA, and experience a bit of wildlife, so booked a 'country cabin' in Topanga Canyon. Again, this place was owned by a man who lived on another property in the same lot, and he came to meet us. It was really lovely, and true to its pictures – we spent evenings staring at the stars and listening to treefrogs, while Arthur slept.

So, a total mixed bag on the airbnb front. The lovely Venice and Topanga places reminded me of why I love airbnb and apartment swapping – done right, it is lovely. The downside is that I find that you can't particularly trust reviews and pictures and, unlike hotels, if you're disappointed you can't easily move. You can contact your host and ask for things to be fixed, or to turn down the music (as I ended up doing in Miami and Silver Lake), but who wants to be doing that stuff on holiday?

For us that month, airbnb had a 50% rate of being great, or not so good. The key is hosts who actually own the property, and go the extra mile to make sure you’re comfortable in their home; the original premise of airbnb.

However, there are letting agents on the site, not just hosts, and they don’t care about your comfort. With the Hyatt we booked through Expedia being a similar price range to the airbnbs we booked, it's definitely worth thinking twice about whether booking a hotel might actually be the better option. It seems that in the case of airbnb, sharing isn't always caring.

Thursday, 1 January 2015


Cosmic Hearts by Liberty - I will make something from this print!
As one year turns into the next, I inevitably evaluate where I am, what I'm doing and what I'd like to do. And writing it down helps bring it into focus.

I achieved most of what I wanted to last year: found more work, lost the weight, did lots of stuff to the house, found Arthur a nursery that we’re all happy with. I moved out of mother-to-a-baby mode and back into myself. And we got a cat! Very good for enforced relaxing. (It's nice when a cat's asleep on you. Why move?)

At the age of 2 and a bit, Arthur is getting easier and easier all the time, and I'm so happy to have more time and energy to spend on things I love doing. So, without getting too detail-y, here’s what I’d like to achieve this year.

Work. I picked up a client that demanded a lot of getting to grips with last year, so this year I’d like to enjoy the work without the stress of being a newbie. I also have a couple of other irons in the fire, so I’d like to keep the year stress-free and enjoyable, workwise. (Although, because I am apparently unable not to, I’ll keep an eye out for super-exciting opportunities I can’t say no to.) (I’d also really love to learn how to properly build websites and code, but that’s for another year I think.)

Fitness. Keep on exercising ma booty. I lost most of the weight I was aiming to last year, hitting the gym 3/4 times per week. I’ll hopefully keep up with that, and always aim to make the Sunday 9am power pump class, as that sets me up for the rest of the week. (Although I got a bit obsessive about exercise and have enjoyed slowing down a bit over the Christmas break, so I might try and just accept where I am now and avoid being a slave to the scales.) (This Christmas belly has to go, though.)

Eat clean. We eat pretty clean on the day to day, but I have a tendency to go through periods of eating total crap. I need to wipe that out and make my diet truly clean. I'm currently loving A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones for inspiration, any other book recommendations? Also, less alcohol. And less coffee. I think I said that last year. One cup maximum in the morning. Of coffee, not alcohol.

Junk the TV and social media. I hereby confess that sometimes in the evenings I power down by watching the Kardashians. This is obviously very wrong, and instead I will aim to write or sew instead.  Social media is a brain-numbing timesuck, but I love Instagram, which is full of inspiration, so I’ll stick to that in moderation. Also, less TV for Arthur, more creative play. Arthur has loads of toys, colouring and story books, and we have amazing playgrounds by us. I want to encourage his love for the outdoors, music and his imagination. 

More writing. Tom is doing a creative writing degree at the moment. And writing fiction is what I’ve always wanted to do. So in the evenings, it’s time to write. 

Learn how to make clothes. I got a little sewing machine last year and went big on my first project and attempted to make a dress, which burnt me out. This year, I will start over but start small, on a vest, and learn new techniques as I go along. I’m not buying any new clothes until I’ve made something, so I’d better get on with it. I find these ladies very inspiring. And I'm definitely making something from that Liberty print up top.

Travel. I want to go to the South of France and Italy. Maybe a weekend to Paris or Berlin. If I'm really lucky, a cheeky trip to New York. Man, I love to travel. I WILL write up our Memphis trip from last year – I LOVED Memphis and I want to go back soon. And to New Orleans. I'll leave it there for now.

Go out dancing. I love dancing.

Finally, seeing as we all now finally agree that the internet is made of cats, here’s a picture of our cat. She's called Joss and she came to us as a stray. 

That’s all for now. Healthy, peaceful and happy wishes for the year ahead.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Roadtrippin' Dixie.

We just got back from a crazy whistlestop trip to the US of A – roadtripping three of the Dixie states then five days in the Big Apple. We've nearly broken Flickr with all of our pictures – I'll break them up into three posts so as not to break Blogger too.

The trip started in Georgia. We flew into Atlanta and immediately drove out of the city and towards the national parks at the North of the state. Doing this with a one and a half year old in tow nearly broke us after a 9 hour flight which was delayed by 3 hours after missing our original flight. But it was worth it when we arrived at our first night airbnb – a spacious 1960s house, built for entertaining, with a lovely garden and huge spa bathroom. The current owner is now a farmer/chef who prepared a big ole Southern stew for our arrival.

After a blissful morning spent sitting under a tree, shooting the breeze, with Arthur running nakey with two lovely dogs (and a huge Mexican steak breakfast, thank you Michelle!) (oh, and a deeeep Himalayan sea salt bath), we set off on our roadtrip adventure proper. Our first stop was to the city of Asheville, just out of Georgia, in Western North Carolina. That first drive set the tone for the rest of that part of the trip: stopping to paddle in creeks, have a quick dip in the river, wish we were hungrier so we could stop at the BBQ joints by the side of the road. (We saw a BBQ tour party - they were large people.) We stopped to wonder at waterfalls, ponder what the big birds in the sky were ('vultures – they're even bigger when they're in the road and you're fixin' to hit them!'), driving through a crazy rain storm alongside the cigarette packaging peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains. Happy days.

This was a giant thrift store next to a creek. 


We whiled away a day in downtown, in gorgeous 2nd hand book shop Downtown Books and News – something else done so well in the States, inviting places that encourage you to stay, leisurely browse, pick up a book sit down and read. A visit to Tom Wolfe's boarding house, a proper wooden porch and swing joint, which helped you picture old Asheville. Then a short hop to the River Arts District, an artsy neighbourhood sprung up next to a freight railroad down by the river, with microbreweries and galleries in the old warehouses, where you can kick back in the river breeze drinking beer and listening to the sounds of the railroad. (Our first night digs were also right to some freight tracks and we were so happy to hear the sounds of the train – Michelle our host agreed with us, 'If you don't like the sound of the train, you aren't my people.'



We stayed in Asheville for a couple of nights, happy in our hillside hideaway, then set off to our next stop, a couple of nights in the Smokies. From Asheville this meant driving out West, into the Tennessee Valley. We stopped for a sunday lunch of burgers and onion rings in a railroad town called Bryson City, which was one of my favourite places of the trip. A stop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, it was a low brick town of fire station, theatre, folk art shops, and a deep creek for swimming. Jimmy Mac's for burgers, the old drugstore that's now an antique shop, where the owner practices his organ on a high platform 'early mornings and late at night' (weird), and next door a bookshop in the old drugstore soda fountain. It was a spooky weird town and I would love to live there, and open a thrift shop in one of the many lovely, disused buildings.







The building where I'd like to open my thrift store, please.

We mooched around town so long we didn't find the creek (although did hang out next to the river, where some friendly locals were taking part in a tradition they called Decorations, where they decorate the graves of their dearly departed – the cemetaries were swathed in flowers.

We did, however, find Na-Bers, a drive in BBQ joint. Straight out of the 1950s, you drive up in your car and order your deep fried corn and BBQ plate and eat overlooking the river. For actual real?


We ate inside, to soak up 100% deep-fried atmosphere.



On to the Smokies, where we stayed in a log cabin, listened to woodpeckers, drove along burbling rivers to visit waterfalls and lakes, dodged snakes (this picture is the prize of a local yoot whose girlfriend was terrorized by a baby copperhead in the bathroom of the lake we were snoozing next to.) It was completely chilled and we tried to extend our two nights, and chop a night off the rest of our trip but it wasn't to be, so after two lovely days we set off across Tennessee.

america2104_2 025image




As we left the Smokies we drove up to see the Fontana Dam. Holy build a huge wall across a mountain river! It was impressive. A nearby American, overheard, 'It's not even that big of a river!' Er... 




It's interesting how as soon as you cross a state border you can feel a difference –Tennessee was both more white picket fence and more tumble-down than North Carolina; with rusting farm equipment and pick-ups seemingly artfully incorporated into the landscape. (Although in reality, the lawns are all so neatly cut so as not to harbour snakes.) Immediate beating heat as soon as we left the mountains, with the radio pumping out country songs with a tale to tell, as Nashville loomed on the horizon. We stopped for BBQ at a great friendly place, that had disappointingly un-tangy bbq, and hared along the I-40 to our first night stop at Franklin, a small town south of Nashville. (We wanted to keep the stress of driving down by sticking to small towns so avoided Nashville. Next time.)


We took one crazy stop in Jackson, TN, to go to Rusty's TV and Movie car museum. This is a crazy place – Rusty himself showed us around – he has original and some reproduction cars from films and TV. We're talking a Batmobile, Kitt from Night Rider, a DeLorean, The Dukes of Hazzard's car... Arthur loves cars and I wanted to collect my mum medal so we stopped off here. It was totally crazy awesome and took us off-road to see a bit of Jackson, and a sweet TN backroad back to the Interstate. Highly recommend!

Arthur in his American tourist shorts.

Franklin, our stop-over, was a white picket fence and perfect lawn town, with fireflies and porch swings, perfect for enjoying an evening beer. We stayed in a sweet small family house where I could easily have stayed forever, reinventing myself seamlessly as a Tennessee power mom. In our one morning in Franklin we visited an awesome brunch spot, Puckett's, where we got our first dose of Elvis breakfast excitement, thrifted at the Goodwill, tuckered Arthur out at a brilliant playground and then set off. (Missed out the civil war battle site at the local plantataion - whoops - sorry Franklin. Time was tight.)

Arthur playing 'night night'. Such a sweet house.


Next stop: Memphis. Whole 'nother blog post!


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Down on the farm

Last weekend we stayed on a sheep farm in East Sussex with some friends, our children and a dog. It was so lovely I had to share some photos. It was a fully working farm, with fields and fields of sheep, blossoming fruit trees and, at this time of year, lambs! Fluffy little lambs with pink floppy ears, everywhere. The perfect way to get away from London for the weekend. We arrived on Friday night and, after putting the baby down to bed, went for an extended march around the fields. It was so pretty! Ponds, huddles of cute woolly lambs and their mums, blossoming trees...


This lamb was less than 24 hours old!
The farmers were brilliant; they really wanted to let us all know how the farm worked, how important it was to support the industry by buying British lamb, the whole process from lambing to going to market. It was obvious they really looked after their animals. The children got to go in a pen full of tiny gamboling lambs and stroke them. CUTE OVERLOAD!


The farm is in the village of Peasmarsh, five minutes outside of Rye, which is also worth a visit. Extremely quaint, full of olde fashioned teashops, traditional grocers and wisteria-covered inns and the like. We had lunch at The Ship, whose half pint of smoked prawns were a Thing.  Peasmarsh is also where Paul McCartney has his home (where he lived with Linda and sent his kids to the local comprehensive.)  I pressed the farmer for juice but she wouldn't spill, saying the locals are very discreet. Although she did say a couple of interesting things about Linda, that I shan't share! (You can see ariel pictures of his house online if you're feeling stalky. Helipad! What a life.)



Romney Cottages, the accommodation, was really child and animal friendly. What used to be an old lambing barn, it had decking and lawn overlooking a duck pond, fully fenced in and safe. A really nice place to relax. The farmer took time to bring us extra highchairs and cots and Moon (a huge retired greyhound) was made to feel really welcome. There were lots of beautiful sheepdogs on the farm too – working dogs, so we were told to be careful with the kids, but they were lovely, clever dogs. There was a great fully stocked kitchen, too.

Arthur doing monkey legs to avoid the sea
Peasmarsh is also close to one of my favourite places, Dungeness, so we had to pay a visit. That place never gets old. Fish and chips outside the pub, gazing at the nuclear power station, with a miniature steam training passing by. A desert california vibe, complete with dodgy folk art, mystic gift shop and airstream caravans. Completely weird. The beach was warm enough for paddling, even in early May.




All just a couple of hours drive out of London, or on the high speed rail link, so a really lovely way to spend a spring weekend out of the city.

Monday, 24 March 2014

eBay collections

As an avowed thrifter, many of my favourite things have come from eBay. A brooch shaped like a telephone, beautiful vintage leather shoes and bags, 1950s glass Christmas baubles... When I'm far away from the thrift stores that I love, I can still sift through Americana treasure.

Perfect thick wool vintage blanket

In the run up to my wedding, I even bought dress options from eBay – I still have a fabulous Halston Heritage nude silk dress that I didn't wear and need to re-list. And over the years, I've found so many beautiful vintage dresses from last century; chiffon from the fifties, palm prints from the sixties, printed silk from the eighties; I can remember them all. I have my favourite vintage labels saved as searches and, this might be taking it too far, my favourite colour. (Electric blue. If you search electric blue, you are pretty much guaranteed to find some cool things.)

So eBay's new collection feature is, for me, a dream. I can save things I like, gathering them into moodboards to go back to later. I have a rule only ever to buy things that I can't stop thinking about, so this is perfect: save now, go back with your fingers crossed that it's still available! (And this is where the 'find something similar' button is a godsend: sometimes the same piece shows up, or something better!)

Now I have a house to fill the collections have been invaluable. I've been able to group together looks and themes and plan out rooms. A cosy cluttered kitchen is my number one house priority, and I've been able to source essentials like a Mason Cash mixing bowl, enamelled teapots, heavy iron pans, and most importantly, a huge reclaimed kitchen table!

Next on my list is the garden, so bistro chairs, thick vintage wool blankets, antique lemonade pitchers and every garden's essential: a swingball set. And a paddling pool. (For Arthur. Honestly.)

One day I will finally own a Moroccan wedding blanket
 When I'm not filling my actual house, I can fill my fantasy dream home – a modernist LA house in the hills, filled with period Danish rosewood furniture and ceramics. (Again, just try typing the word 'Danish' into eBay search for a list of singular beauty.)

Then when the dream house is filled, I can get even more abstract and just live inside a William Egglestone photograph, or daydream about a motel stop-off on a dusty California desert roadtrip. Amateur oil paintings of bored-looking ladies, mexican hand-embroidered bedspreads, and the ultimate, a pink Princess telephone.
A pink Princess Phone for long days chatting and drinking martinis
Do you use the bay of plenty? Isn't this just a BRILLIANT new feature?
[You can see the rest of my collections here: Berlin coffee shop, a perfect day to spend in bed, Tribeca loft, and more!]

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