America Farm

 

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)

 

 

 

 

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