My Early Hour: Michelle Kreussel, The Fox in the Attic

Michelle Kreussel

She lives by the seaside in East Sussex with her husband – a musician – and earns her crust making rather lovely toys and decorations for children. We meet Michelle Kreussel, founder of The Fox in the Attic, to talk mornings and artist’s studios…

Michelle Kreussel, 37, lives in St Leonards-on-Sea with her husband, Wojtek (who is a musician), their 22-month-old daughter, Penelope, and a ginger tom Floyd, who is seven.

What’s your home like?
Our house is an early Victorian end-of-terrace townhouse, arranged over five floors, with a modest garden at the rear. The very first thing we did when we moved in three years ago was to rip out all the carpets and sand and varnish every last floorboard, so there are now exposed floorboards in every room in the house.

The next thing we did was put up wooden shutters on every window. We made the basement into a living and working space, where now I have my studio and my husband has his. We fell in love with it the minute we walked in the door. It is a wonderful project; I almost don’t want it to be all finished.

What time are you up in the morning?
Penelope wakes up around 7.30/8 in the morning. When my husband is home, we take turns to get up with her and let the other one have another hour of snooze time. Long gone are the days of lie-ins and coffee in bed staring at the sea until 10am.

What wakes you up?
Penelope. I love sleep and have never been a morning person, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when we had Penelope almost two years ago. I’m still not used to it!

How do you feel?
Like I need a coffee!

What do you do first thing?
I get Penelope her morning drink, and while she watches cartoons I will make some coffee and check my emails. And perhaps tidy the kitchen a bit of whatever detritus was left over from dinner the night before.

In three words, describe mornings in your home?
Quiet (if Penelope is in the right mood), thoughtful and bleary.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee, coffee and more coffee.

How might the rest of your day pan out?
When my husband is at home we divide the day. So, for example, I will have Penelope in the morning until nap time. I will then have lunch with my husband and then finally have the afternoon in my studio. I will always pack orders first, then get started on making new ones. If it’s a particularly nice day, or we really feel the need, we might take Penelope (and ourselves) out for some exercise and fresh air, maybe to the park or to the newly re-opened pier on the seafront.

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What’s your workspace like?
My studio is in the front of the house in the basement. I know – I should really be in the attic! It is a lovely space with light streaming in from the south. I’ve kept it classic white, and adorned it with pictures that inspire me, and photos, postcards and keepsakes.

I’ve got one huge old bank of drawers that everyone comments on, that was riddled with woodworm when we got it, and had to have serious work done on it – all worth it. I’ve also got a 60s piece of furniture which was left in the house when we bought it – I really liked it, so up-cycled and re-painted it.

I’ve got three desks down there as well, one central one for packing and creating, and two side ones for sewing machine work and other bits and bobs.

Tell us about your business: when did you launch, and how/why did it come about?
The business came about by me thinking up ideas based on nature, plants, animals and seasonal themes. I illustrate my ideas, paint them, print them, follow wherever my imagination takes me. I turn my ideas eventually into physical objects like cushions, baby rattles, stuffed toys and greeting cards. Colour and children are at the fore of my designs. Classic inspirations are also indispensable to me.

The creative side is way better than accounts. Who likes accounting? Not even accountants!

I started my business in 2011 whilst working full time in a catering company in London. I desperately needed a creative outlet, and had always dreamed of working for myself. One day I just bit the bullet and bought a sewing machine even though I had little idea about how one worked! Through trial, error, perseverance and a little bit of magic, I made my first small, funny and misshapen stuffed animal toy, and I never looked back. As my creations became neater and more elaborate, I began selling online on Etsy, and doing the occasional craft market. In 2013 I was successful enough to be able to quit my full time job to focus entirely on properly building and working on The Fox In The Attic.

What’s the greatest challenge when running your own business?
For me personally, the biggest challenge has been going from a part time business to full time and being able to survive financially. Another challenge is getting thought the quieter times, when there are not as many orders.

What makes it all worthwhile?
Being my own boss. No commuting! Being able to live in this big old house by the seaside, and being able to spend so much quality time with Penelope.

Are there aspects of the production that you delegate to others?
My business is essentially me (with the occasional helper/ husband/ mother/ friend) in my home studio. And of course, the creative side is way better than accounts. Who likes accounting? Not even accountants!

Are you a happy lone worker, or do you enjoy the buzz of a shared workspace?
I love being in charge of my space and motivating myself. I am happy going into my studio alone with a cup of coffee (and maybe Floyd), turning on the radio and getting on with it. On the rare occasions where I have a little helper down there with me, I relish the difference in having some company. So it’s all good.

It’s all about fine company and even finer food, basically.

What’s the secret to career success?
Organisation, hard work, perseverance. And a bit of luck, although that’s out of your control.

Is the juggle real for you… do you find it difficult balancing parenting/relationship/me-time/time for friends/career?
It was at the beginning, but we have settled into a good routine now that works for us. So we plan socialising well, rather than being as spontaneous as we were. It can still be hard, but it is easier than it was. We have to try and notice when one or other of the ‘bits’ are out of balance and work on it.

Describe an ideal weekend?
Friends! Husband cooking something amazing, and definitely a big roast on the Sunday. Maybe a visit to a National Trust property. Lots of fine wines and excellent local cheeses in the evening. Perhaps a barbecue. It’s all about fine company and even finer food, basically.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
Taormina, Sicily. Preferably in a five star hotel rather than on the street.

The Fox in the Attic