Hannah Drake

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American Houses vs. British Houses

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we consider buying a house. It’s come up in a few conversations I’ve had with American friends who live here and especially my little brother when I post something on Instagram like my kitchen sink and he can’t believe there are two different taps. I wanted to compile a list of the differences that I’ve noticed from my experience living in Colorado (in houses and a townhouse) and in Birmingham, England (in a terraced house, also visiting flats and semi-attached houses). This is only my experience in the places I’ve lived, so it might not—probably doesn’t—apply to everywhere in the UK or the US.

THE TYPES OF HOUSES ARE CALLED DIFFERENT THINGS

We live in a terraced house, which is basically what a townhouse would be in the States. In the city, these are really common and actually most of our friends live in terraced homes. My mom moved into a townhouse in the States when I was a freshman in high school, so in a lot of ways, I’m used to that type of house. You know, not having windows on two sides of the house, sharing a wall with the neighbours, etc. My mom’s house, though, was one of five in a separate building, even though the whole street is lined with townhouses. Our house, on the other hand, is one of I don’t even know how many. The building pretty much runs continuous down the street. Unlike the States, you’re more likely to have a decent sized back garden (yard). My mom basically just had a patio with a couple of flower beds while we have a small patio (I guess you could call it that even though there’s no space to put patio furniture) and a longer yard.

In the UK, what would be considered duplexes are called semi-attached. They seem to be a lot more common than duplexes, at least where I’m from compared to where I live now. To be honest, I’ve always found the thought of a duplex a little strange. But in Birmingham, with them being so common, it’s just kind of a fact of life. To me, it feels like more of an “upgrade” from a terraced house to a semi-attached then a townhouse to a duplex. Maybe they need rebranding in the States. Or maybe I’m too judgemental. (Probably.)

And of course we all know that Brits call apartments flats, which just seems so posh, right? But like if an American called their apartment a flat it would seem really pretentious and try-hard.

THE FLOOR PLANS ARE MORE OPEN IN THE STATES

I’m not sure if this applies to older houses in the States, but most of the houses I lived in or visited had really open floor plans. The downstairs would often just be one big open space, combining the living room, dining room, and kitchen. There might be some half walls or entryways, but the rooms don’t feel completely separate from one another. In the UK, especially older houses, are more likely to have completely separate rooms. For example, in the house we live in now, the dining room, living room, and kitchen are all in a row. There are two doors into the living room, so you could close both and be completely closed off from the rest of the house. It’s come in handy when we’ve had foster cats, but it’s really annoying when we’re hosting friends, especially bigger groups. Our house just feels so small sometimes. Newer builds in the UK are moving toward more open floor plans though, from what I’ve seen.

THERE IS MINIMAL STORAGE SPACE IN BRITISH HOUSES

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of the things that drew me to our current house was the pantry under the stairs and the closet above the stairs. Those two things are a serious rare find. There is obviously minimal space to build on, so they often try to maximise living space and the storage place suffers. If you can fit a cupboard under the stairs, they’ll absolutely do it. (I see you, Harry Potter!) But one of my coworkers said there is literally no where in his house to put his vacuum cleaner. It seems like in the States people often have walk-in pantries, a closet in every bedroom, a linen closet in the hallway (maybe both upstairs and downstairs), a coat closet, etc. That’s right, most bedrooms in the UK don’t even have closets. That’s why we need wardrobes!

SINKS SOMETIMES HAVE TWO SEPARATE TAPS IN THE UK

This is what baffled my little brother the most. This is also something that I find incredibly annoying. Both our kitchen sink and our bathroom sink have two separate taps, one for hot water and one for cold water. So yeah, you can’t really wash your hands in warm water. Though Luke tried the other night by switching back and forth between the two taps while they were both extreme in their respective temperatures.

MOST ROOMS WILL HAVE A RADIATOR IN THE UK

Instead of vents in the floor or ceiling, there’s probably a radiator on the wall in every room. We have one in every room but the bathroom. They take up a bit of space on the wall and have to be considered when arranging furniture, but it’s also kind of nice that we don’t have to heat the whole house. In the winter, we usually just heat the living room and our bedroom.

AMERICAN HOUSES HAVE A LOT OF BATHROOMS

I never realised how much I appreciated a good 3.5 bath house! Even in my mom’s townhouse, all three bedrooms were en suites, plus there was a powder room on the main floor. In our house, which has the same amount of bedrooms, but is only two stories (it doesn’t have a basement), we only have one bathroom. We’ve seen house that have a powder room on the main floor as part of an addition or that the space under the stairs is actually a small bathroom. We’ve also seen some en suites, usually part of a renovation. But most of the time, there’s one bathroom. The idea that Luke and I could get food poisoning from the same meal haunts me and is something that I think about probably more than I should.

THE WASHER IS PROBABLY IN THE KITCHEN IN THE UK

Okay, maybe this is the weirdest one. Almost every house I’ve been to in the UK has a washer, as in a clothes washer, in the kitchen. People often don’t have a dryer and have to hang their clothes to dry. Or maybe they have a two-in-one like Luke had in the house where he lived before I moved. It obviously takes up cabinet space, but Luke says it’s because all of the plumbing is contained to one area. Just think, if your kitchen has a dishwasher and a clothes washer, that’s two cabinets gone! And they’re already precious for storage! I have seen a handful of homes with a utility room and I really wanted to buy a house I didn’t love because I was blinded by the massive utility room. (Spoiler Alert: We didn’t.) Our current house doesn’t have a dishwasher (or a microwave!), so we’re only “missing” one cabinet for our clothes washer, which does not double as a dryer. But if we buy a house without a utility room, you better believe it’ll be a part of my renovation plans. One time my father-in-law asked me if I’d rather have a dishwasher or a dryer and I think my answer still remains true. I’d rather have a dryer, but only to dry sheets and towels. I hate having the linens hung all over our house after laundry day, especially in the winter when it takes forever and we can’t use our clothing line outside.

The Ultimate Pantry Inspiration

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If you’ve been around to the house we’ve been renting for the last year and a half and gotten a tour, you probably know that the pantry was one of the biggest reasons that I chose the house. (Luke didn’t even see the house until the day we moved in, I just sent him photos and videos.) Our pantry is under the stairs. It’s dingy and narrow and the shelves are warped. But having all that extra space in our kitchen has been so useful. It’s pretty much always stocked with the usual pantry items and the back is packed with kitchen appliances, more glasses, and speciality dishes and cooking equipment. The whole thing is really organised. Baking stuff goes on the top shelf. Cooking stuff (canned goods, sauces, dried goods, etc.) are on the middle shelf. The bottom shelf is half canned pumpkin and half odds and ends (including Chick-Fil-A sauce). Even the boxes in the back are organised. But the whole thing is nothing to write home about. It’s not Pinterest worthy. It’s not Instagram worthy. It’s just good ole fashioned useful.

But you may have seen on my Instagram Stories recently, we keep much of our pantry staples and dried goods in the KORKEN jars from IKEA. I recently labled them all with a white permanent chalkboard pen and I love the way they look in our pantry and on the end shelves on our cabinets, but I can’t help but dream about a perfectly organised minimalist pantry that hopefully the house we’ll buy later this year we’ll have.

Truly, I could spend my whole day pinning linen closets and pantries on Pinterest. I don’t know why, but I can never get enough! All my house and interior pins have drastically increased as we inch closer to buying a house, but I’m especially a sucker for those #organisation pins.

Today I’m sharing a couple of my favourites and what I love about them. So just know that none of these are my photos, I’m just drooling over them.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

This definitely feels like the ultimate pantry to me. I love the mix of glass jars (and I assume plastic containers) to hold different things. Especially the lemons! Our pantry will probably end up looking something like this because we need more space to keep our appliances like our mixer, blender, food processor, etc. and even some of our bigger crockery.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

While I love the idea of those stackable containers, I’m not sure they’re exactly my style. I’m obsessed with the jars on top though. My favourite thing about this pantry are the different baskets to keep produce, bottles, bread, and smaller jars. All the elements really work well together and I love the mix of light wood, light wicker, and white metal.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

Okay, if I’m being totally honest, my favourite thing about this image is the fridge. I would love to have a Smeg fridge some day, but it may just be a pipe dream. Onto the pantry. It’s a bit more out in the open, which makes me love its minimalist vibes even more. Our jars are two rows deep on our open shelves because they’re only as tall as our cabinets, but this is the dream. I love how they’re all perfectly spaced and smallest to biggest going down the shelves.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

I would love to see a photo from this pantry a few steps back because it almost feels like a butler’s pantry. I’m particularly drawn to the X shelves for the bottles, which is like a larger version of the wine rack Luke built into our bar. Since we already have something like this for wine, I could see us using it to stock beer and other bottled beverages. Right now we don’t really have a good space for sodas or beer.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

Yes, I love the jars. I love the baskets. But what I especially love is the spice rack and the drawer. Luke built us a spice rack that’s great for the jars we have, but this “stadium seating” feel is perfect for the taller jars with the labels on the side. (I painted our jar lids black and wrote the spice on the lid.) The drawer is such a good use of the space for those bigger jars that need to sit two or three rows deep.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

Once again, let’s swoon over the Smeg fridge. But moving on. This is so perfect for a smaller kitchen. In fact, if we didn’t have our pantry now, I would have probably asked Luke to build me something like this. It looks like our exact jars on the top, but I love the narrow rows of baskets on the side and the closed cabinet for the things that probably don’t look as pretty.

7 of the Dreamiest Pantries You've Ever Seen

Give me all the things! (Especially that pitcher!) I love the smaller baskets for the produce. (Did you know you shouldn’t store onions and potatoes together?) It’s such a great alternative to throwing everything into a big bowl on the counter…which is actually what we currently do. I also love the pretty little things that need to be stored, but really elevate the pantry as a whole and probably makes you want to keep the door open.

Original Pin

I gotta know, what’s the weird house thing (which room, which storage space, which organisation technique?) do you just get insanely giddy about? Or…is that just me?

PIN FOR LATER!

What I Learned from Marie Kondo

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Yes, everybody and their mother is talking about Marie Kondo and her new Netflix series. I actually bought her second book back in August though, so I feel like I can say I’m not totally on the bandwagon. (Though I didn’t start it until this year when everyone was raving about her show.) Regardless, there’s a lot to learn from her and I am here for it. I feel like I’m on a decluttering, simplifying, organising hot streak and seriously have to stop myself from starting a new project when I get a second wind just before going to bed. (Why does that always happen?!)

I’m slowly but surely making my way through the house, trying to embrace her method of going by groups of items rather than room-by-room, but the goal remains the same: declutter, simplify, and organise every inch of our house, leaving behind only the things that spark joy.

IT’S MORE THAN JUST ORGANISATION

A friend shared this article from HuffPost on Facebook a few weeks ago that I found very interesting. From reading her book, I knew there was more than meets the eye with her technique. Her methods are deeply rooted in Japanese culture and the Shinto religion and it’s important to understand that before diving in. There’s a reason why she wants you to wake up your books by tapping on them or why she wants you to thank the things you don’t want to keep or why she greets the house before she even begins. Those things probably feel so foreign in western culture, but I’m so intrigued by this approach. It seems to foster a deeper connection to and gratitude for the things you do have, which is a far cry from the gross American materialisation that runs so rampant throughout the country and straight through my own life. I would rather have fewer things that I truly love—that spark joy—than a house cluttered with the latest trends and things I’ll never use or wear again.

THERE’S SO MUCH ROOM FOR ACTIVITIES

It probably goes without saying that if you’re going through your clothes and pulling things to donate or get rid of, you’re going to end up with more space. However, when you reorganise things in ways that make more sense or are more convenient for you and when you implement the Konmari folding method, there is just so much more space. Before I refolded my clothes using her techniques, I was cramming piles of tank tops into my under bed storage and shoving more and more socks into my sock drawer. It was a disaster. Clothes were getting caught in the back of the drawers and it seemed like there was no space for anything else. When I refolded my socks, there was space in the back of the drawer. When I refolded my shirts, I was able to put all of them into one drawer instead of spread out between two drawers. When I refolded my pants, I made use of the little bit of empty space that was unusable before. I ended up pulling a few things hanging in my wardrobe to donate and now it feels like I can see everything hanging in there. There’s room to push the clothes apart and slide the hangers on the rack instead of nothing being able to budge. It just feels great! The trick, however, is not seeing the empty space and feeling a need to fill it.

SOME THINGS SPARK JOY BECAUSE THEY SERVE A PURPOSE

In her book, she talks about getting rid of a screw driver because it didn’t spark joy for her. She was able to make do without one, but she realised after the fact that the screw driver did bring her joy because it served its purpose faithfully. This was so helpful to keep in mind when going through every category in our house. We all have clothes that aren’t for everyday wear, but useful to have when we have a special event that requires dressing up or wearing something specific. Other things around the house may serve a very specific purpose in your life or in your home and that might be enough to spark joy for you, even if you don’t feel warm and fuzzy about a screw driver.

SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE

I was shocked by the number of days the families on the show took to complete everything in each episode. Sometime it was over a month! But then it occurred to me that I too was nearing a month and a half of organising (just not doing it so intensely as these families). It’s been helpful to take my time and really be in the right mindset to actually tidy up effectively.

But on that same note, it’s been a serious struggle for me to not just buy all the things. Not stuff to fill the space in our house where the things we’ve tossed and donated once were, but actually storage stuff. I’m dying to get new drawers for our bedroom. I would actually love to get drawers for either side of the bed to double as a bedside table, but that’s a story for another day. Having more drawers would definitely condense how our clothes are organised and also allow for more room. Right now, Luke’s trousers are too tall when folded in the Konmari Method for our drawers. My jumpers also won’t fit in our drawers, but fit nicely in the under bed storage we have. Anyway, I did buy a few storage baskets for the kitchen (to organise cleaning supplies, dish towels, glass bottles and jars, and vases), some vacuum storage bags, structured storage bags (for bedding and bags), and under bed storage (for out of season clothing). But other than that, I’m trying to make do with what we have. I know we’ll upgrade our drawers eventually after we move so it’s fine for now. And in the meantime, who cares if we’re using cardboard boxes to organise the drawers in our kitchen rather than getting cute storage boxes or bins?

Have you been watching Tidying Up or reading her book? Did you get hit with a bug to declutter and organise your whole house in the new year? (It’s okay if you didn’t!)

I just want to leave you with this tweet. Buzzfeed did like four articles featuring the best of Marie Kondo tweets, but this one is far and away the best.

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