The road that takes you to Celia Muñoz’s home meanders like a country lane, past mellow brick walls, heavy with laburnum and ivy. As you get closer to her front door the distant hum of London traffic disappears, as does your phone signal. ‘It always does,’ says Celia, mother of five and founder of childrenswear brand La Coqueta, as she unlatches the low, foliage-fringed gate. ‘That’s why we love it here; it’s our little green paradise.’
Inside, you discover a country home in the middle of town. Peaceful and white-washed with winding corridors, marble fireplaces and secretive cupboards, the house is a gem; a rare survivor from the 16th-century, which feels more Norfolk than north London. ‘We love the fact that it looks like a cottage from the outside but has such generous, horizontal proportions inside,’ says Celia.
It is hard to imagine that when Celia and her husband, a Dutchborn financier, first saw the house, ‘it was painted black and purple and filled with strange granite structures. But we’ve always been drawn to wrecks with hidden charm. So one of the first things we did was to paint the house white to make it feel light,’ she explains as we head up the pleasingly wonky staircase, passing the huge photograph by Dutch artist Hendrik Kerstens, whose ethereal tableaux are inspired by Vermeer. ‘My husband and I love antiques, pieces with personality and a story. If we could afford it, we’d buy an Old Master but this photograph comes pretty close,’ says Celia.
The six-bedroom house also appealed to the couple who moved here from a smaller house nearby. ‘At first the children continued to share bedrooms. It was terrible: they’d party until 10pm and then be up again at 5am,’ says Celia flashing her wide, red-lipped smile. Now Flavia 8, Lucas 7, Siena 6, Bosco 4 and Hugo 3 have their own rooms. ‘Simple, playful, colourful and easy to change; that’s my aesthetic for children’s spaces,’ says Celia as we peek in to Bosco’s room, with its striped mini chair from Oka and two-tone walls in cream and blue painted to evoke ‘an old schoolroom’. There are vintage Dutch shelves and wooden toys from Cuba, a present from Celia’s father: ‘Cuba is changing so fast. You won’t find these any more,’ she says wistfully, eying the hand-made cars. A nostalgic theme stretches to the other bedrooms, where white walls contrast with wallpaper by Jane Churchill (‘I love English wallpaper’). Iron beds are dressed in eiderdowns and antique rugs and schoolroom desks exude rustic appeal. There are high-street pieces too: Ikea side tables, an Anthropologie desk and a Habitat rug; ‘I love being able to mix and match. It’s not about how much something costs but how you style it.
You can’t help but notice how tidy everything is. Pencils in soldierly rows, vintage quilts neatly folded across beds. Celia confesses to having tidied up for our visit. But still, you wonder, how does she juggle a business with motherhood of five? The answer is old-fashioned discipline: ‘When we get up at 6am no one has their breakfast until they’ve done their beds,’ says Celia, who grew up in Granada, in southern Spain, the daughter of a high-school teacher and psychology professor. ‘I will admit it was pretty laborious when we had three under the age of two. But now it’s easier. The children love to help. I hope it lasts. My father likes to tease me. He says, “You were a terrible teenager and I hope you experience the same thing times five!”’
Before setting up La Coqueta, Celia worked in head-hunting but left to pursue her interest in psychology. ‘I went back to university to do an MSc in Mental Health Studies at King’s. But all the while, my passion for children’s fashion was growing. It was not until I started a family that I felt the time was right to start my own business. Friends had been asking me to bring back the Spanish clothes that my children wore. When I came home once with over 5000 Euros worth of clothes in a suitcase I thought, I’m on to something.’
Family is central to her business. ‘I try out all the designs on my children, which I think is part of the brand’s appeal,’ says Celia who opened her first shop in 2013. ‘Before that I spent three years researching the business. ‘I’d stand outside competitors’ shops bombarding people with questions.’ In the first year she worked in the shop ‘but too many friends would pop round for a chat, so nowadays I have an office at home so that I can get my work done.’
You can still find Celia in the shop every day, where dresses, knits and pretty shoes resonate with buyers in search of clothes that are both nostalgic and wearable. ‘All our clothes are made in Spain by suppliers whose skills are handed down from mother to daughter. The quality is old-fashioned but they’re also practical clothes you can throw in the washing machine.’ Designs are rarely repeated and the price point – £62 for a hand-smocked dress, £39 for a boy’s shirt – sits between high-street and designer. ‘I call it affordable luxury,’ says Celia. ‘And of course, they have the added advantage that a crying child looks far more appealing in one of my outfits than a Gap T-shirt.’
We head back to the drawing room, where Celia points out a treasured 18th-century clock, ‘a present from my French grandmother’. As it strikes 5pm, the children tumble in from school, the younger ones clad in La Coqueta: sailor dresses, collarless shirts and trousers in subdued hues. Eyes alight on a plateful of macaroons. ‘For later,’ says Celia, in a flurry of hugs, kisses and holas. And then they are off, to do homework or spilling into the garden to climb trees and run races: a vision of bucolic bliss in the heart of London.
La Coqueta 5 Heath Street NW3 6TP 020 7794 6333 lacoquetakids.com