Two years ago, just as I was building a Direct Sales business in America, we began building a home in England. Madness all round.
Here is that journey in David’s words…..
Although we have lived on an island in the West Indies for more than twenty years
and still do, the time came for us to have our own home in England … as our children grew up barefoot and re-enacting pirate battles with machetes and chasing
snakes up coconut trees – we had decided to attempt to civilse them with schooling
in England … so for six months of the year they get all the splendidness of Rugby
and Cricket along with Latin and anglo-centric Geography and History (what
mother’s heart does not soar when an 11 year old gets off the water taxi on the
Government Dock reciting the batting order of King Henry VIII’s wives: “divorced,
beheaded, died, divorced , beheaded , survived“?).
For a decade India and I have criss-crossed the Atlantic, virtually meeting in
airports but trying to make sure that hardly a weekend went without the boys
seeing at least one of us. During this, we had been the guests of my wonderful
Mother Out Law, Lady Pamela Hicks but even she – after getting through the Blitz;
the Partition of India and acts of terrorism could not be expected to endure
Romneys and Raeburns swept of the walls by kicked rugby balls and tea trays
shattered by cricket balls knocked through windows by increasingly space and food
consuming, malodorous teenagers.
India was lucky enough to have some farmland near (but not too near) her mother
and on the edge of the village where we had christened our boys when they had
been still considered a charming distraction. We had permission from the
authorities to take down two 1970’s farmworkers cottages and build our own idea
of a house with a small garden bordering large fields, one of which was called
America Farm …. Which became the working title of the project.
It was at this stage that India said to me: “If we are going to make this work
together there is going to have to be a lot of compromise “…… the cold hand of fear
gripped my heart as I had a flashback to meeting twenty-five years earlier,
when as an advertising man, a rather fierce Client had asked me during a stressful
creative pitch: “David do you know what compromise means?” … “Yes meeting in
the middle” I replied…“No it means doing things you don’t want to do” she replied
with the look of one of those animals that eat their children – I left advertising and
England only months after the meeting.
But what was “our idea” of a house in the country asked our architect Andrew
Nichols, here we got lucky in that we both wanted something traditional, probably
white stucco and a cross between a Danish farmhouse and a Georgian rectory, as a
shorthand description I said: “We’d like to live in a Merchant Ivory film like
everybody else I suppose “.
We are also by choice complete slaves to symmetry in architecture, so that the
alignment of doors and windows was important as they create vistas and views that
expand space – we’ve also learned from the tropics that breezeways created by
opposing French doors and windows would come in handy for the 2 weeks of
summer that England gets.
For the more predictable conditions I was very keen to have as many fireplaces as
possible through the house – whilst India is a country girl and loves nothing more
than walking and running in biblical conditions of rain, sleet and snow – my idea of
weather is to sit by crackling logs smelling the wood burn with a good book and a
drink and we collaborated with Charlotte Freemantle at Jamb – a custom Portland
Stone neoclassical beauty for the sitting room and marble for the study.
In our bedroom I was very keen for another real fire, however India felt that
clearing out the hearth would be a bore upstairs and preferred an artificial fire….. I
pointed out that it would be unusual for her to clean out any of the hearths ….. but
we decided to compromise – and now have an artificial fire in there.
Being the daughter of David Hicks, India grew up with clashing – or rather
vibrating colours in every room back in the 1970’s but we tend to go
with a fairly neutral background and one keynote colour per room: be it aubergine,
pony skin upholstery on fauteuils inherited from her father’s set at Albany or
orange ultrasuede on Louis XVI chairs of mine. Art often supplies the chance to play
with colour and Gerald Laing’s 1968 “Baby Baby Wild Things “and Alexander
Calder lithographs are a good case in point. Although my more neoclassical
gouaches of Vesuvius erupting from 1784 and my 18th Century still lives won at
auction around the world, tend to find themselves “compromised “into stacks
against the wall.
In our children’s bedrooms one son has gunmetal and red walls painted on the
diagonal and my daughters’ has a lit a la polonaise again inherited from the Hicks’
set at Albany covered in the original “Tumbling Rose” fabric.
By mixing furniture that either I had collected or that India had from Albany, we
could not have been luckier that it all went together … nor that with or without
compromise, all the family agreed that on the first night we all stayed in the house
together – it felt like home.
(Wait til India realizes that I’ve hung a Danish interior painting in our bedroom, so dark it can hardly be read by the camera)