Your interactive family guide to Spain as recommended by local mums | Last updated 5 months ago

Interviews with Local Mums

Corinne Kowal

Corinne just relocated to Madrid from Brussels at the end of 2013. German, she grew up in France and Spain is now the fifth country she has been living in. Passionate about color and interior design she founded Emerald Green Interiors in 2010 and offers interior design services with the focus on color consulting. She works with the major fabric companies and understands her client’s individuality when creating or redesigning a space with them. In parallel to the work for her own company she has worked as a home color consultant for the British paint brand Farrow & Ball in Brussels. She speaks fluent English, French and German.

  • Corinne Kowal in Madrid

    Whereabouts do you live and what is the area like?
    We live in the barrio de Piovera in the Hortalezza district. It is a green residential area halfway between the city and the airport and close to the Parque Juan Carlos. Being residential it doesn’t have many neighborhood shops but has plenty of larger shopping facilities.

    Why did you decide to move there?
    While searching for a place we didn’t know yet which school our oldest son would attend but we knew it would either be one of the French schools near Arturo Soria or the German school in El Viso. We have a very lively boy and felt that living in the city center wasn’t the best choice. Furthermore my husband works near the airport here. In Brussels he had to commute an hour twice a day, so it was also important to reduce the time he spent traveling to and from work every day.

    How many children do you have and what are their ages?
    We have two sons. Stanislas, born in Berlin, is four and half years old and Philipp, born last year in Brussels will turn one in April 2014.

    What was your experience of relocating to Madrid with your family?
    Relocating to Madrid was and still is a different experience from our previous relocations. Every relocation is different but the age of your children certainly changes a few things. When we relocated from Berlin to Brussels, Stanislas was 18 months old and didn’t quite realize or voice the change. Today he is four and well aware of things. So far things are going very well and he has adapted extremely well to his new school. For us the major change of this relocation is the fact that we did not speak the country’s language prior to our arrival. We are taking Spanish classes but our level is still more than basic and this can be quite frustrating on a daily basis.

    In hindsight is there anything about the move you wished you had done differently?
    Actually I don’t think so. I think we managed the best we could with the elements we had.

    How is your life in Madrid compared to Brussels?
    We are still brand new and discovering how things work here, but the first thing I’d say it that we have the feeling of being back in a European metropolis. Despite it’s great quality of life Brussels felt like a small town arriving from Berlin. The second obvious thing is the weather. Seeing a cloudless sky three weeks in a row isn’t something I am accustomed to. Other than that we have to get used to the Spanish times. Having a worker arrive at 2:00 pm after having said he would come in the morning, or having the post deliver a package at 8:30 pm is still a little surprising. The other difference lies in the fact that we live in a residential area where a car is needed, whereas in Brussels we had a supermarket, baker, butcher or newspaper stand at walking distance from our home.

    You own a business called Emerald Green Interiors. Can you tell us a bit about it?
    My business was born out of my love for interiors and first and foremost my love for color. I am and have always been drawn to colors: vibrant, muted or pastels, everything that is neither white nor a so-called neutral. A few years ago I even thought about opening a store selling paint and offering counseling to its clients. I am a decorator and a color consultant and my work is to help people incorporating color in their homes in a way that fits their personality and style. This is what makes it so interesting: behind every project is an individual. Color is a very subjective subject and I am simply there to assist my clients creating a result that is both pleasing to the eyes and consistent with the historic style of their house and the furniture they own. I worked for two years as an in-house color consultant for Farrow&Ball and quickly realized that as much as clients loved color they were intimidated by it and didn’t know how to tackle it. I bring in my expertise to choose wall colors and fabrics and depending on their needs I also source new or vintage furniture.

    How did you become involved in interior design?
    I studied fashion design but have always had a great love for interiors. My parents bought an old house when I was a teen and I remember clearly having very strong opinions about old things being ripped out to be replaced by modern ones. After finishing my studies and working in the fashion industry for a few years, it became very clear for me that I wanted to work in interior design. I found a job in Paris working for a company producing high-end furniture and decorative items and learned a lot both from working with clients such as architects and decorators, and from attending trade fairs. I worked there for a long period of time (seven years) and toyed with the idea of starting my own business for a long time. The birth of my first son and the year break I took after his birth helped me to reach the decision to go for it. It was a long process that has involved working in several countries and starting with setting up my business here such a short time after relocating to Madrid feels like a real milestone in this adventure.

    Has it been an easy process to relocate your business?
    It has actually been much easier than I thought it would be. When I am not visiting clients or sourcing products for them I work from home. I didn’t have to look for an office or retail space to rent like other businesses have to. I am starting out with an autonoma status, which was really easy to get. I found a great native English-speaking accountant who specializes in helping foreign entrepreneurs and who is taking care of all the legal stuff so I didn’t have to struggle to translate everything and to find out about all the details of setting up a company.

    What has been the most interesting project you have worked on?
    I have been lucky enough to work on a large-scale residential project for clients in Saudi Arabia over a one-year period. It was actually the first project I was able to realize and was an incredible learning experience as it allowed me to work with many different high-end suppliers.

    How easy is it having 2 young children in Madrid and working full time?
    Well at this point I can’t say that I am working full time yet as I’ve just set up my business here and need to build it up. Having children certainly brings a few organizational challenges but working from home also offers a lot of flexibility in the way I organize both my workload and hours.

    What is your impression of childcare and education where you live? 


    So far my impressions are excellent. Our area is residential and there are many schools. Our oldest son is only four and we didn’t really see many different schools but the one he attends seems to make us all happy.

    What school/daycare do your children go to?
    Stanislas attends the French Kindergarten Pomme d’Api, located avenida de los Madronos. Philipp is not yet in daycare as I am still nursing him. I guess we’ll have him start around 18 months like his older brother. Until then I might use an occasional daycare center that just opened next to the Lycée Français.

    Why did you choose this school and are you happy with your choice?
    Well choosing isn’t exactly the proper term. We started contacting schools at the beginning of September, when things are already wrapped up, for a November start. We choose the school that accepted him. Stanislas was in bilingual French/German school in Brussels so we didn’t want to throw him right away into the Spanish school system. Unfortunately the German school had a long waiting list. Pomme D‘Api had a last minute cancellation. Despite the change Stanislas has adapted extremely well, thanks to a wonderful teacher that has worked with the class prior to his arrival. The school is quite small and the staff is very friendly.

    What language do you speak at home?
    We do speak French and German. I speak German with the kids and my husband French. As a couple we speak French.

    Do you think it essential to speak Spanish where you live?
    Yes speaking Spanish is essential and has nothing to do with where we live. Our Spanish was and still is pretty non-existent but it is a priority for us to get fluent. Relocating to a country means embracing it’s culture and language and for me it is a must. How else will we meet locals and integrate the Spanish society?

    How welcoming have the locals been towards you and your family?
    Both our neighbors and the locals we’ve met have been very welcoming and kind to us. Having small children is actually a real door opener in a country that loves them so much.

    What advice would you give for anyone thinking of relocating to Madrid with children?
    Go for it! Relocation is an extraordinary experience for you and your children. It opens up your horizon like few other things. Speak about the move with your children and voice your concerns with them but don’t sweat the small details. Over the past months I have often joked with my four year old about the fact that I did not understand when someone would talk to me and I really believe that he was relieved to see that I was facing the same dilemma as him but could laugh about it. Be ready to embrace the differences instead of trying to compare everything with your home town/country. Children can adapt extremely easily as long as they feel that their parents are welcoming their new life’s changes.

    What is the best way to contact you?
    The best way is either by email  (info@emeraldgreeninteriors.com) or by phone at 608.359.733.

    March 2014