on a hot summer’s day when the children were little and we were driving back from the beach, we spotted an old toy kitchen dumped by the side of the road. we slowed, stopped, reversed back up the street and hopped out of the car to inspect it. it wasn’t pretty. it was dirty, scratched and scribbled on, with tatty peeling old stickers… a perfect project!
we loaded it into the car, took it home and immediately began a clean up job with the hose and a brush. the children washed and scrubbed, full of excitement as they instinctively felt the potential in restoring it. we went to the local hardware store and bought a can of matt khaki paint (there wasn’t any choice - it was khaki or nothing) and sprayed it top-to-toe.
we made hooks and handles, painted branches on the walls, my mother found some little enamel cups in the back of her cupboard, then sewed some tiny tea towels out of rags, and slowly the grotty old kitchen was transformed into a chic children’s play kitchen.
i’ve always loved the patina of pre-loved and veered towards accidental finds. we love shopping in markets, car boot sales and charity shops, and rescuing and transforming discarded items. there’s something special about having toys and clothes passed on from older cousins and siblings. these items carry their own stories and memories, and this makes them meaningful in the way that new is not.
we have always shopped ‘vintage’. it’s good to see that this is increasingly becoming part of life today, with high street charity shops buzzing with activity as our young people enjoy reusing and recycling.
to me pre-loved things have a warmth and authenticity that you don’t get from mass-produced off the shelf items. vintage things are unique and different, and often one-offs.
hedgehog loves toys and products that are well-made by craftsmen, using good, honest materials. i like to think that these things will be treasured, handed down the generations and in turn become well-loved vintage possessions for our children’s children.
do visit the vintage section on our website, as we update it with recent finds all the time. amongst many things, there are books and furniture, a handsome collection of globes, christmas stockings and metres of my mother’s handmade bunting made from recycled vintage fabrics.
the mid-autumn festival is an ancient family occasion, similar to harvest festival. celebrated in china and east asia over a full moon, this year it falls on friday 13th september. traditionally families gather together, light paper lanterns and share mooncakes to give thanks for the harvest and pray for the future.
lanterns originally symbolised fertility and often depict natural elements, such as flowers, plants and butterflies. when lit at nightime, they represent the sun’s light and promise that warmth will return after winter.
we love to celebrate festivals, and feel it’s important for our children to connect to their part-chinese heritage. we festoon our little london garden with colourful paper lanterns lit with candles, and eat mooncake sent with love by family in hong kong.
each paper lantern feels like a work of art. flat packed, there’s a fine wire hook at the top and a simple tassel at the bottom, with tightly concertinaed layers of exquisitely engineered paper between. if it’s a still night we hang them from twigs, stems and branches and light them with candles (but be warned – they are not fire resistant), and if the weather’s bad they look almost as good hanging inside. they make charming decorations over tables at parties and celebrations at any time of year, not just for festivals.
may all your wishes come true!
children love picnics. it doesn’t matter if it’s in your own garden, the local park, in a field or by a river. if it rains, you can have fun improvising one in your living room. if it’s a beautiful evening, we love to break the after-work routine when the children are off school and make the most of long summer days with an evening picnic, parks are less crowded, less hot and it is a very relaxing experience.
at hedgehog we love to explore outside and spend the day in nature. this often means taking our own picnic as we like to keep away from restaurants, shops, people and queues.
for a ‘zero waste’ picnic, simple is best – a fresh baguette with some ham or cheese, a bag of cherry tomatoes, a cucumber and a punnet of big fat english strawberries. we like to shop in markets and prepare our own food to avoid too much packaging. we take glass jars crammed with mouth-watering marinated olives, feta and sun-dried tomatoes, individual bottles of homemade elderflower cordial (see our recipe) and paper straws to drink with, pack everything into a favourite woven basket and spread out our simple, rustic feast on a check rug with a stack of washable napkins.
with a bit of thought and care and some hedgehog gear, your picnic can be transformed into a seasonal, stylish (and instagramable) event.
we love gingham, stripes, polka dots and checks. kraft lunchboxes, enamel plates, bamboo cutlery and aluminium sigg water bottles help us reduce our plastic use – we even have a litter grabber so we can leave the place cleaner
than we found it! we can’t always count on public bins (often overloaded) or recycling points so it is a good idea to take a rubbish bag too.
for extra interest, don’t forget to take a compass, insect catcher and magnifying glass for inspecting your finds. for really adventurous explorers we suggest a bow and arrow or fishing kit, and for creative children a little flower press or sunography sheets - there’s nothing more gratifying than for capturing images of nature forever. you can also take outdoor games, we love our hoopla game and the giant mikado…
easter is a time for making and baking, for fresh colours, bunnies, chicks and flowers. the clocks have changed, the days are longer and spring has arrived! it marks the end of lent and a turning point in the calendar, looking forward to the birth of baby animals and the bursting of spring buds.
celebrate with thoughtfulness, and get the children involved. encourage them to lay a pretty table for breakfast, bake a cake with them for tea or pick a bunch of primroses from the woods and ask them to choose their favourite jar to put them in. every meal can be a party! let their natural creativity inspire you – mix and match colours, pastels and ginghams, decorate with real eggs and chocolate eggs - and find joy through their eyes.
easter weather can be fickle, but rainy days are the perfect opportunity for using craft kits, or painting eggs with toddlers to teens - even the simplest splodges by the youngest children look sweet on an egg. we search for the whitest duck eggs, but speckled brown and blue shells are pretty too. baking is another rainy day option, with cookie cutters, or moulds bringing cakes and biscuits to life. try making cupcakes and decorating with pastel icing, to match the table cloth and napkins – we love pale yellow, sky blue, lilac and baby pink for easter!
the pirate party we held for our son’s 5th birthday was as much fun organising and planning as it was for the children on the day. we altered some of their grandmother’s old clothes for costumes – with a bit of imagination and a stripy top, anything goes! we painted a canvas square for a flag, and made our own skull and cross bone bunting.
tropical food on the table helped set the scene of distant paradises and far-away islands. tiny portions of fish and chips were very tempting, washed down with flagons of home-made lemonade, and finished with a black cake with skull and cross bone icing.
we continued the skull and cross bone theme with a tattoo parlour and bundles of colouring-in sheets, rolled and tied with a black ribbon,
we devised a treasure hunt with coded stones,
at the end of the party every child had their own hand-tied bag of treasure to take home. our children loved this party, and it was well worth all the effort to make it so special and memorable.
one year we had an impromptu christmas in our family’s mountain retreat in a remote village in a natural park in the pyrenees. it’s a simple stable conversion, carved out of the mountainside with slate floors and walls, and rustic wood post and beams.
with limited time and only few resources, we relished the challenge of creating a christmassy atmosphere to make it magical and memorable for the children. luckily the holm oak next to the house needed a prune, so we cut bundles of leafy twigs to decorate the table, lights, mantelpiece and front door, tied larger shoots to the wooden posts and twisted more up the stair banisters. rosehips on a bush in the valley were a lucky find, and a bowl of clementines brought a pop of colour to the table.
a tangle of bushy foliage entwined with fairy lights gives instantaneous atmosphere!
the children got creative with twigs and a glue gun, making intricate wooden snowflakes. we kept ours rustic but they could easily be sprayed, painted or dipped in eco-glitter and hung with red ribbon for a little more pizzazz.
our bark crackers and napkins were perfect for the setting and we improvised with shepherds’ socks woven with local wool for stockings.
wherever your christmas is this year, step outside, take a look around you and bring a little nature inside. best wishes for a creative christmas!
with a bit of imagination it’s very easy to set the scene for a medieval knights and maidens party at home. a perfect excuse for spring-born children to dress up and entertain in true castle style.
first and foremost it’s important to spark enthusiasm for the party and build excitement. we found a special typeface on the internet and printed our own invitations. the children helped us roll up each one, then seal and stamp them with wax.
we dangled ivy from the garden over the front door to set the scene as guests arrived, then wound more up the banisters in the hall and around the lights, and dotted surfaces and corners with baskets and pots of seasonal flowers bought from the market in the morning. we love a roll of brown paper in our house, and often use it as a canvas for painting on the floor. this time it was perfect for rolling out as a table cloth, which we then painted with trailing vines. we made our own bunting from old wall paper and gift wrap, and dug out our most rustic jugs and plates for the table.
we chose rustic whole foods, ‘pain de surprise’ and decorated our slightly wonky, but very delicious, homemade cake with edible glitter and a crown of flowers.
the children dressed up in our hedgehog costumes, which we love, as they are all natural cotton and linen, and made by a family business in germany using local raw materials. not a bit of nylon in sight.
a jester was helpful, especially for the shy children to laugh at his silly antics, then we got everyone out in the garden for some bow and arrow target shooting. meanwhile there were prizes for children who answered all our medieval quiz questions.
we made our own crackers with knight jokes, chocolate coins, marbles and dice, and all the children left with their very own boy and arrow.
high up in the hills of the catalan pyrenees, a narrow winding road leads to a remote factory on the banks of a stream. the location, close to a waterfall, is important as the factory is operated entirely by hydropower.
we stumbled upon it one summer some years ago, on a family trip exploring the mountains, and couldn’t resist following the signpost to see where the road took us.
founded in 1902 by the great-grandparents of the current owners, this wool factory is still fully operational. it’s a family business that has been passed from father to son, and in its heyday employed about twenty people. it uses an impressive array of original machinery dating from the eighteenth century, including the ‘devil’, a machine that separates wool, and a spectacular mule-jenny, a spinning mule invented by samuel crompton in in 1779, which was used extensively in the mills in britain’s industrial revolution.
production starts with piles of wool delivered in big hessian sacks by local shepherds. fresh off the sheep’s back, it’s smelly and needs combing out, cleaning and weighing before the yarn can be spun. the wool is separated into piles, the white and brown wool are entirely natural (brown is from what we call a ‘black’ sheep), and black and grey wool is achieved through dyeing. one floor of the factory is devoted entirely to spinning, and another to weaving.
the finished products are rustic and honest. thick socks for walking, and blankets which were traditionally made for shepherds who slung them over their shoulder and pulled them up over their heads to huddle in for warmth and shelter when night fell.
the lanolin in the wool makes the blankets naturally water resistant, and we love them for their authentic rustic look and feel. we used them as play rugs on the floor when our children were babies, we always carry one with us for picnics, there’s one in the back of the car for emergencies and we’ve used them for covering straw bales and benches at children’s parties.
truly artisan products made with genuine natural resources.
a pile of beautifully wrapped presents under the tree is all part of the magic of christmas. we keep ours simple, often using plain brown or red paper and string or ribbon in plain contrasting colours. rubber stamps for labels are a brilliant way of disguising handwriting from enquiring minds.
homemade decorations add charm, and making them together with the family is a good way to occupy excited children on the run up to christmas. one of our favourites is baked dough. you can stamp into dough before it’s cooked – i have a special set of deep stamps for this, and it’s a fun activity to bake, roll, stamp and cut the dough with christmas-shape cookie cutters.
we always like to bring a bit of nature inside, and use branches, twigs and greenery to hang decorations on in the house. bright red holly berries are the best, but even if you can’t find these, a sprig of greenery tied on a simple brown paper parcel adds just the right amount of embellishment.
tricky shapes can be popped in a bag and tied with a ribbon. one year we found coffee sacks from colombia, and when christmas was over we used them for sack races!
stripy bags are a quick fix for small gifts – and brilliant for christmas stockings. you can pick a different colour for each child, pop the gift inside, fold and seal with a piece of stripy tape or a sticker.
and finally, a winning way to finish a present is to stick a little something on the outside. a tiny decoration for the tree, a gold chocolate coin or a stripy candy cane all adds to the thrill and excitement on the big day.
as a family we have always enjoyed travelling by train. at the beginning of the summer holidays we used to take an early morning train from london to paris, then a taxi across paris to leave our luggage at austerlitz station for the day. it was such a fun and relaxing way to travel, we packed board games and craft kits for the journey and felt like we were on holiday from the moment we left our front door. and as an added bonus it gave us a day to spend in paris before taking the night train on to barcelona.
i remember as a child seeing the 1963 film charade, starring audrey hepburn and cary grant. full of romance and suspense, it’s set in paris, and in it there’s a scene when audrey and cary are watching the vrai guignolet theatre. so one year we decided to go on a quest to the champs elysees to find it. we were in luck! we found it, exactly the way it was in the film, with the same faded red curtain and just as much charm.
we also discovered a traditional puppet show, known as a ‘guignol’, in the jardin du luxembourg, one of our favourite spots in paris. it was founded in 1933 and is now housed in a comfortable and modern theatre, with performances all the way through the year. the shows are designed for children aged 2-6 but are a delight for all ages, even adults. there’s also a marvellous old merry-go-round with ride-on wild animals, and an area with vintage toy sailing boats to rent. this is an old tradition which dates back to 1927 when a monsieur and madame paudeau rented handmade wooden boats with hand-stitched fabric sails to visiting children.
another perennial favourite is the natural history museum in paris. it's got an amazing zoological park and a gallery of evolution which is so well done - a state of the art renovated museum packed full of real life-size stuffed animals.
these are our happiest memories of paris. we like to think of it as our secret paris for families.
for more information see: