Allison is one of my very best friends from New York. She now lives in London with her Norwegian husband Vegard and their 21 month old daughter Elle Victoria. Allison is Partner and Co-Creative Director of a children’s clothing company, which will be launching in 2015 (watch this space!).
Allison, Vegard and Elle Victoria at Chelsea Market in London
Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
I live in London, and have lived here for nearly five years.
How did you ended up living in London?
My position at Estée Lauder Companies in NYC brought me to London for a project in 2009. On the last weekend of my stay, I was introduced to Vegard, my husband, through a close mutual friend. I had been planning to attend business school in France, but after some months, he persuaded me otherwise. I moved to London instead, and the rest was history….
In Chelsea, London
What is the best thing about living in London?
The best thing about living in London is enjoying the gardens, sense of irony and Europe on my doorstep.
The British have mastered the art and science of gardening. As Sir Walter Scott once said, “Nothing is more the child of art than a garden.” Irony is like the kettle to the British- it’s always on, whistling slyly in the corner of their daily interactions. Who doesn’t appreciate Paris being 1.5 hours by plane and less than 2.5 hours by train?
Describe your house?
We live in a 2 bedroom flat on the River Thames and Chelsea Bridge. The architecture and interior is more typical of something that you would see in Manhattan or Hong Kong, as it is modern building with floor to ceiling glass windows, and and an open space plan. It contrasts the classical architecture of our area, in South West London.
We have transformed the flat a bit since Elle Victoria was born to be more of a family home. For example, the former guest room, now our daughter’s room, has our favorite pictures and drawings from loved ones, and a pink ukulele on the wall. The open glass shelving in the kitchen that served as more of a bar in the past now includes milk bottles – and rather than hiding these things we have tried to find nicely designed children’s cups and bottles instead.
Whilst we enjoy our cosy flat, we do plan to move to Wimbledon next year.
Do you have a housekeeper/nanny/babysitter?
We have a housekeeper and a nanny. Although, I do feel like a housekeeper most days, as every corner I turn there is a new ‘art project’ on the wall or ‘sculpture’ on the floor. And, regardless of an extra hand, there are many things that only mum can do.
Mama and babe
What is the culture in your city regarding help with babies and child rearing?
London is a very diverse city, with many parts and cultures that make up the whole – however the norm is our area is for most families to have support from a baby nurse, au pair and/or a nanny.
At what age do you send your kids to school or kindergarten or play group in your city? Are they public or private? Is it difficult to get into these schools?
When I started to apply for schools in our area, the first question that I was asked from several schools was when was my child due to be born…
Schools are very competitive in London, with long waiting lists. The average age for children to attend (nursery) school is 2-2.5 years old. I suppose the intense preparation can be typical in big cities with high demand and ambitious parents. We have tried to take a proactive but balanced approach.
How do you get around town with your little one?
Like most city residents, we typically walk almost everywhere. We also take advantage of using the English black cabs as they can easily accommodate a stroller (pushchair/pram). For now, we always take the stroller with us. When we go away on the weekends to the countryside, we take our car.
Where do you hang out with your babes for play time?
Our favorite place to spend time is outdoors where Elle Victoria can run free. Our favorite spots are the gardens behind the Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, the Mediterranean Gardens in Battersea Park, and Holland Park. All of these parks have wonderful gardens and playgrounds.
The Mediterranean Gardens in Battersea Park
We are also members of a local kids club, Purple Dragon, where we spend quite a lot of time cooking, painting and making music. Also we enjoy going to local play and music groups, and story hours. We currently go to Knightsbridge School Toddler play, Pippa’s Poppets Music and Movement Classes and Mayfair Library’s story hour.
Do you have pets?
No, although there is a new family of ducklings that has just arrived in our pond downstairs which Elle Victoria lovingly sings to every day. She thinks they are her pets.
Do you have a favourite coffee/lunch spot to head to with your babe?
Elle Victoria is a very active child, as most toddlers are, so lunch and coffee out are always an (unpredictable) adventure. We usually stay local in Chelsea, namely on Kings or Pimlico Road. Some of our favorite spots in our area are the cafes/restaurants on Duke of York Square, Joe and the Juice, Bluebird Cafe, Poilâne, Chelsea Farmers Market and Ca-puccino.
Do you have a favourite spot to head to when you need some “me” time?
Typically ‘me’ time is meeting up with close friends for a glass of champagne and a laugh. Once in a while my husband will treat me to a weekend away and I love relaxing on a beach somewhere in the south of europe.
What is your little one’s favourite food?
Avocado (like her mother) and salmon (from her Norwegian genes)
Describe a typical Saturday.
London is a big city that offers few typical days. That and the fact that both my husband and I are both expats, means that a we tend to travel a lot. However, when we are in London a typical Saturday could turn into any kind of adventure – an all day food festival, an unexpected visit from a friend abroad, a local brunch that turns into a party night (with nanny on-call)….
Regardless, Saturday is usually prioritised as a family day; in particular daddy/ daughter quality time. Vegard and EV will usually start the day with a long walk in the park. When possible, I try to indulge in an extra hour or two of sleep, read the newspaper with a cup of coffee, go for a run in the park, then meet my family for brunch, and take it from there….
What languages do you speak to your baby?
British English (nanny)
Where do you go on holiday as a family?
We typically go to our home in Virginia and to Vegard’s parents home in Norway. They both provide the perfect balance to our city life in London with family, space, quiet and nature.
At James River, Virginia
What tip would you give a family with a babe the same age as yours if they were visiting your hometown? What is the one not-to-be-missed activity to do/place to visit with a baby in your home town?
Embrace the London experience. Enjoy a stroll through some of the most beautiful parks and gardens in the world, visit museums, Harrods and indulge in a traditional tea. Also, take advantage of using the black cabs as they can easily accommodate a stroller.
If I had to choose one activity I would say visit Hyde Park and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground; ‘A fitting tribute for a Princess who loved the innocence of childhood.’
At the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground
What is the biggest difference in raising children abroad? What do you miss the most about home?
The biggest difference in raising children abroad, and what we miss the most – is not having our family and old friends around us.