Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.

Picture two primary school girls, circa 1992, prancing from door to door of their tiny rural German village. In their hands, they are holding batches of A4 papers, each sheet filled with neatly aligned rows of the same hand-drawn motif — a different motif per page. Their product: one-of-a-kind wrapping papers. Their objective: sell said wrapping paper to the neighbours to make the money needed to pay for a pony ride at the nearby stable. That was my sister and me: creative entrepreneurs since Day 1.

Making something
out of nothing.

When I wasn’t making wrapping-paper, I was hiding real estate advertisement catalogues under my pillow, pulling them out at night to look at the floorplans and imagining how I would decorate them. As much as my mum will deny this (“When will you ever grow up and do something serious with your life?”), she is very much the culprit to blame for this long-standing need to create. I don’t remember a day that she didn’t teach us a new craft, from knitting and crocheting to candle making and paper-machéing.

While other children celebrated their birthdays with balloons and candy, ours were fully themed concept parties, in which mum turned the entire house into enchanted forests for Snow White and her seven dwarfs — or whatever the theme of the year was — to go on adventures in.

Hand-sewn princess dress for the birthday girl and seven dwarf outfits for her guests, of course. And all of this while being a working mum. And if that wasn’t enough, each time our family followed my father as his job took him around the country (and later the globe), she managed to completely re-decorate each home we inhabited using what we already owned while adding wallpaper, self-made curtains and matching throw pillows to give each room a unique theme. Her superpower: “Making something out of nothing”. I chuckled when those were the words someone recently used to describe my interior practice: like mother like daughter, I suppose.

Meanwhile in nigeria.

At the “height” of our wrapping-paper business (disclaimer: I’m pretty sure, we only ever sold one), Timothy (my now-husband) was born more than 5000 km further South in Lagos, Nigeria. The memories of his early years are mostly faint, though he distinctly remembers having a chicken den in the kitchen of his multi-story apartment building. I suppose, nothing much has changed there, he’s still devotedly keeping his hen (me, singular) in check. Though she’s really no good in the kitchen.

Wrapping-paper reimagined.

Fast-forward fifteen years: it is the year 2008, I am a student of politics, economics and law at Maastricht University in Holland. My classmates (enter: left-aligned politics students) call me Paris Hilton behind my back, because, apparently, I strut into lectures fashionably late, or rather, dressed fashionably, (albeit) late. When I’m not at the library studying, I spend my time decorating my room. Once again, I design a multi-motif wall-paper using Microsoft Word and images I find on Yahoo of my favourite puppies, models and fashion editorials. I then print my designs on A4 paper at my university library’s printing facilities and use wallpaper paste to put them on the wall. I also make curtains out of 70s style fabric, paint florals on my grandmother’s vintage desk, cover an old closet in pink vinyl and upholster a Victorian chair after spray painting the French cane backrest in mud brown. What I lacked in taste, I made up for with experimentation every time I moved home from here on after.

Who's the boss.

Boy meets girl and all that stuff. We take the plunge, get hitched and I move into his special edition of a bachelor pad, that comes with his old flatmate included in the package. Against all odds, I establish my kingdom by giving away his entire set of matching IKEA furniture while he is at work one day. You see, his idea of home at this point is slightly more practical in nature: why buy cushion covers for his HENRIKSDAL chairs, if you can sit on them just fine without? And what’s the point of shelves if you can ‘file’ your paperwork in Ikea bags under the bed?

Queen of ebay.

After the initial weeks of decluttering (mostly his) stuff, we begin our hunt for the perfect furniture. Due to our relatively meagre budget, eBay becomes our best friend. Our most priced possession: a twenty-year-old, round, marble dining table for 100€, which marks the inauguration of my reign as the Queen of Ebay. The defining moments of this era, which continues until this day, include but are not limited to: a £350 genuine aniline leather daybed, a Parisian bistro style marble desk plus chairs (the latter I resell at the price I paid for both), a ginormous Habitat mirror at half the original price and innumerable decor pieces for less than £5.

The DIY-BUG bites.

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you. It’s ironic, don’t you think? It’s like hanging up the last frame, and then moving to London the next day. A little too ironic … to leave our newly acquired finds behind, so we pack them in a van instead. Nevermind that London flats are much smaller and nothing seems to fit. Our biggest challenge now is creating storage, so we build a bed out of Ikea Ivar cabinets that’s just a tad too high for anybody other than long-legged Timothy. I have to rely on what’s left of my gymnastics skills to somersault onto our bed for the next year and a half. With our first DIY challenge successfully completed, nothing can stop us, not even a lack of suitable means of transport. Who says that 2,40m long slats of wood can’t be transported on a public bus? Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.

Severe case
of nesting.

Against all odds and by divine intervention, Timothy and I buy a two-bedroom apartment two years into our London adventure. Our first ‘real’ home becomes a true labour of love and the results are here to show for it (if I dare say so myself). Creative efforts reach an all-time peak after a moment of inspiration sparked by an installation I spot at an Aesop store. Driven by the idea to use bricks to make a coffee table, I take a suitcase and head to the address the store manager shared with me, which, to my dismay, turns out to be one of those wholesale stores, the kind where builders go to collect truckloads of building materials. You can imagine the jokes a pretty girl with a suitcase looking to buy bricks calls forth. Their jokes were not entirely unfounded, little did I know how heavy bricks are.

I proceed to drag the suitcase and bricks through the pouring rain onto the tube during every Londoner’s favourite time of the day — rush hour. Once on the tube, I’m offered help by a middle-aged man, who, when attempting to lift the suitcase off the train, cluelessly asks if I’m transporting bricks. What a jokester! My take-away: making a house a home sometimes costs more than you bargained for but always leaves you with more than you expected. In my case, this experiment left me with a whole lot of grit – something that would come in handy just a little bit later.

The making of
Atelier Akuko.

Just as we dare to ponder about putting the toolbox away (just kidding, everyone knows that a home is never fully finished), we are presented with the next opportunity in the form of a creative studio/work space right across the street. Without much thought we once again delve headfirst into a sea of diy galore, one that proved much deeper than any waters we had dreaded before. It all started with a table clad in over 400 custom-designed, hand-painted tiles inspired by our Akuko studio logo that took over four months to make and cost us a fortune. From the table to the upholstered seating, the entire studio is a product of our sweat and tears — and tears there were many, some even tears of joy the first time I walked into B&Q to find the staff greeting me by name.

Rest assured, you will have the pleasure to read about our many faux-pas and their valuable lessons in future articles.

With all this making and creating, rumours have inevitably spread of my passion and aptitude for interior decoration and I have had the pleasure of working with a number of lovely people on designing their space. Which is why I am finally launching this website as a place to document my creative journey and make available my knowledge of the psychology of space to help you make your house a home, too. So — here goes nothing!

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