Geneva Vanderzeil is the face, (or hands, if we’re going to get technical), behind the popular and successful blog A Pair & A Spare. Her stylish, creative and inspiring DIY tutorials span fashion, interiors, food and travel, while her latest and biggest project, her six-week-old daughter Frankie, is inspiring a whole new wave of children’s DIY from adorable clothes to gorgeous nursery trinkets...
Splitting her time between Brisbane and Hong Kong, Geneva’s creativity knows no bounds, and it’s no surprise to learn that her blogging prowess has lead to published books (DIY Fashionista), her own sandal line and more exciting projects in the pipeline.
We caught up with Geneva just as she was putting the finishing touches on her newly renovated home in Brisbane and quizzed the new mum on everything from birth plans to nursery styling and the ever-elusive work/life juggle…
Congratulations on the birth of your daughter Frankie! Can you tell us what the first few weeks as a new mum have been like?
Thank you so much! It has been an absolute whirlwind and I can’t believe she’s six-weeks-old today. Before having Frankie I have to admit I was really worried about how my identity would shift after giving birth, I guess I thought such a big change might lead to a complete freak out or a loss of self-identity. I’ve always been independent and so the thought of having this tiny person to look after was terrifying! But luckily the transition has been easier than I thought it would be, perhaps I imagined it being so bad that anything was going to be better than that? But in many ways, I don’t feel that different at all. It helps to have such an amazing community online – being in touch with other mothers via my Instagram @apairandaspare and website has been such a fantastic resource, and people are genuinely helpful and caring. I’ve really appreciated so much of the advice I’ve been given… Because it really does take a (global) village!
Can you tell us a bit about your birth - did you have a plan, did it go to plan, has recovery been ok?
Let’s just say it did not go to plan. At all. But I guess that’s the first lesson of being a parent, isn’t it? I was really into having a natural birth and did everything under the sun to prepare for that. However, it ended up being a complicated birth because Frankie was a big baby and my labour failed to progress once my waters broke the day before my due date. I ended up being induced and pushing for 3 hours (!). Not ideal but that said when people ask me how it went I tell them it was challenging but not traumatic, which is honestly how I feel. I mean, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and to come out of it without trauma and with a healthy baby is a win in my books. I don’t feel any misgivings or disappointment about it not being the natural-clary sage-visualisation birth I thought it might be, only that it is what it is. I actually feel even stronger knowing that I got through something that was so much harder than I expected! My OB hilariously told me (two minutes after the birth) that for my next baby I should have no trouble doing it more naturally because ‘the second one usually just falls right out of you’. So there’s always that.
In terms of the recovery, it was hard! But nothing out of the ordinary, I guess I just didn’t know how sore and exhausted I would feel. We spend so much time reading and planning the birth but in some ways, the two weeks following are just as challenging. Looking back I’m glad I took it really, really easy and didn’t do much other than sleep, feed and watch Netflix, and at the six-week point, I’m feeling pretty good.
How were you feeling in the lead up to the birth and what tools helped you during such a life-altering time?
So even though I didn’t end up having the birth that I planned, I think all the preparation during pregnancy for a natural birth really helped get me into a really positive frame of mind – even if it was all just a great distraction! I did everything. Calm birth classes, 18 acupuncture sessions, drank all the teas, pelvic floor exercises, meditation, visualisation and just about everything else. I think it all helped to calm me and keep me positive,. knowing that I was doing all I could. One thing that kept me sane the most throughout it all was staying active. I’m a pretty active person and usually exercise every day, and was luckily able to keep that up the whole time (until week 39 when the weight of the baby on my hips rendered me unable to walk!). Obviously as my pregnancy progressed I changed up what I did, and generally relied on walking every day to stay sane, but it helped so much.
How do you plan on juggling work on your site, A Pair & A Spare, with the demands of motherhood?
I was quite nervous about having a baby in terms of the effect it would have on my business – I started my blog in 2010 and have grown it into a creative website and studio with 3 staff, so I really didn’t want to jeopardise it because of having a baby. Which meant a bit of planning! I knew that the first few months of Frankie’s life I would want to dedicate to her, so I took on an extra staff member to take some of my workload, and we worked really hard to prep projects, posts and clients so that I could take that time off. I also timed having Frankie for Australia’s winter period (which is usually quieter for my business than other times of the year). Luckily, the beauty of this industry is that there’s so much flexibility in what I do, and I can work from anywhere. At six weeks out I’ve started doing a few hours of work everyday, which isn’t how traditional maternity leave works but I don’t mind at all. In the past I worked quite a rigid schedule in the studio, but I’ve been embracing working from home more and blending mum life and work life. In terms of the future, I have so many ideas I want to execute, but I think the key to juggling is to choose one thing at a time and do it well, because you don’t have the brain space (or time) that you used to. But interestingly the process of having a baby has helped solidify lots of future plans in my head, and I think in some ways has made me better at focusing on projects that will work. Having a baby gives you so much perspective which has been really great. Now if only Frankie would sleep for long enough for me to execute some of it!
What sort of baby things did you DIY in the lead up to having Frankie?
Soooo many baby clothes! It’s kind of insane. Kids clothes are just so easy to make and you can whip something up in a few hours. I’m all about the matching sets too, so have obviously had to make myself a version of every piece that I make for Frankie – it’s exhausting but I love it. This new area of children’s projects has also inspired me to design some items to share as products with my audience, so watch this space!
Geneva wears Spell Designs jacket and Spell Designs romper
Tell us about her nursery - where did you source most things and what sort of style were you aiming for?
For the nursery at our recent renovation, I styled a simple, minimal space but with a hint of colour and a sprinkle of wanderlust – and of course as much DIY as possible! I started with a beautiful rug that I sourced from Morocco on Etsy. The change table was an old dresser that we updated with my favourite pink paint shade from Haymes Paint, an easy DIY that takes a piece of old furniture up about a hundred notches. I’ve fallen for rattan details so really wanted to have a rattan crib, this one from Koko Collective is just so sweet, along with the gorgeous rattan rocking horse. The huge world map is something I discovered on Instagram from Gathre and had to have – I kind of want to hang it in my own room. Then I added a few of my favourite vintage books and other details along with loads of baskets for storage. You can never have too many baskets. We also worked with a great blind company called Sunway to install really great, child safe blinds.
Did you always know you wanted to be a mum?
Yep I always wanted to be a mum – I have such a great relationship with my parents and as a family we did so many fun, creative and adventurous things that I knew I wanted that for myself. Kids are so much fun! That said, I wanted to leave it till my early 30’s so I could do all the things I wanted to do sans kids out of the way – because they definitely change your life and what you can do. And I really didn’t want to regret having them too early – although in retrospect I’ve realised there’s never a perfect time and you just take it in your stride!
What has been the most surprising thing about motherhood so far?
How relaxed I’ve felt. Motherhood always seemed so daunting from the outside, so many things to learn and know and gah, you have to keep this kid alive! So I’m surprised at just how much she has relaxed me – I feel so much better at taking things as they come than I did before. Perhaps the fact that everything is out of your control, you’re forced to let go more than you ever have. I’m lucky that Ben is a really hands on dad and has also worked from home with me this whole period, it’s really helped me to feel less isolated.
Geneve wears off the shoulder dress designed by Geneva
You’re in the midst of renovating your house in Brisbane, what has the process been like and what stage are you at with it all now?
We’ve just finished the house! Which is amazing. We bought it as a completely run down, tiny cottage in Brisbane’s inner city – it was built in 1871. And so we worked really hard to transform it into something beautiful and functional, whilst also keeping all the heritage elements we loved. In terms of the process, because we split our time between Brisbane and Hong Kong, it was a bit logistical in terms of managing contractors and making sure things were done right. But I’m so lucky because Ben runs his own Interior Design business and so does this everyday – we didn’t stress or labour over things that didn’t matter. We spend one or two weeks a month in Brisbane, so we were able to keep track of the renovation without going overboard, which was actually perfect because it allowed the builders to get on with it the rest of the time and stopped us changing our minds on things. Naturally I filmed and shot everything for my website and will be sharing all the spaces and DIY projects in detail over the next few months.
What’s been your favourite DIY project to date and why?
Picking my favourite project is like picking a favourite child, but if I’m honest our home renovation has to be the biggest and most elaborate before and after project I’ve ever worked on. And it is so incredible to see it all done!