Having realised with a jolt that we are moving into a new life chapter; the hands of the kitchen clock whizzing round with increasing fury and the children beginning to dwarf us, I noticed an interesting shift in the way we occupy and decorate our home. We have just completed Phase One of a home improvement plan. One that marks the end of grubby hand marks, suspicious stains and little pencil drawings on the emulsion. Looking back I see what appears to be a kind of Living Room Timeline.
When I left Yorkshire to do my first ‘proper job’, my meagre salary didn’t stretch to a des res in the middle of Cambridge, so my first flat was in Fulbourn. I spent the next three years, if anyone asked, explaining that I lived in the village and NOT in the high-security mental institute of the same name, but having house-shared since leaving home, nothing could dampen my exquisite joy at finally having my own space. Arranging my sparse belongings, lining my nest with little luxuries from Habitat, and hunting out old curios at the village antiques fair, I made my tiny first-floor studio flat into a cosy home for one, and discovered that ultimate nirvana of a bathroom to myself.
One of my first pay cheques went on a futon. This beautiful contraption provided me with my first ever sofa-stroke-guest-bed. It accommodated my parents, in-laws, and drunken friends admirably, and was eventually retired from service only a few years ago.
My solitude was broken by the occasional addition of a man, but he went off to live in the Falklands for nine months followed by a turn in Sarajevo, (was it something I said?) so full-time cohabiting only started properly after I married him, and moved back Up North, where the houses were cheaper, but even then he upped and left for Afghanistan. I tried not to take it personally.
It was December when we made our pact with the devil (mortgage company) and moved into a rickety little red brick cottage in East Yorkshire, a lovely old house that I still occasionally pine for, despite the giant spiders and draughty sash windows. Forever the optimist, I rashly invited everyone to stay with us for Christmas. Then I picked up a paintbrush and roller while Danny boldly went forth in a rented white van to the nearest branch of IKEA, having folded over several corners of the 2000 Catalogue, only to discover, that most of the stuff was out of stock. (This became a theme.) He made a huge detour to the Nottingham store for the beds, at last returning the conquering hero, with a towering mountain of beautifully designed, colourful and affordable essentials with which to feather our new nest. After hours of twiddling allen keys we hosted a memorable cosy Christmas with a house full, and the reassuring scent of freshly milled pine in every room.
For three years the two of us virtually lived in one of those IKEA sets you have to walk through to get to the ‘Marketplace’. Except that our Billys didn’t hold multiple volumes of obscure Scandinavian literature, our Hemnes’s were full of authentic clutter and the flames in our stove were real. We curled up in our Ektorp, hung up our Fiskbos, and slurped cereal from our 365s. It’s shameful for me to confess that then, we would also watch TV while smoking cigarettes! At bedtime we ascended the little wooden staircase through a miasma of nicotine, impossible for us to imagine today.
Next, we added the ultimate accessory, a baby (not before I gave up the fags, I hasten to add) and the living space started to be designed around child-proofing. As our baby boy got bigger so did his collection of teddies and toys, the living room was dominated by the Baby Dan (a zoo-like enclosure to prevent catastrophes with stove or cat.) Our little cottage began to groan at the seams, and it was time to find a new nest.
When we moved from Westgarth to Woodgarth (coincidence, not choice) we managed to get the whole place decorated and re-carpeted before our arrival. This was crucial to my sanity, as the previous occupants had painted the hall, stairs and landing a deep shade of bull’s blood, like something from a horror movie, and every other room was a ‘bold statement’ in colour. There was also the hideous issue of cluster flies which added to the general run-down spookiness of our new home, but I could see past those details, and decided, much to Danny’s chagrin, to have the whole house whitewashed, and we had an oatmeal carpet fitted on the floors that weren’t wooden.
It felt like an elegant palace after our cosy little cottage, and our Ikea furniture looked silly dotted about in the echoing rooms. As a family we only really occupied the little snug room in the evenings, (which was about the same size as our previous living room) and we adopted that old fashioned tradition of only using the living room for ‘best’ when we had guests.
I stood and wondered how I would ever fill it.
Eleven years later I had comprehensively stuffed it to the gunwales. I blame Pocklington charity shops and Allsorts Antiques. I have an obsessive compulsion, born out of a tight budget and the thrill of the chase, but the result is a whimsical and rare collection of wonderful found objects, some valuable and all beautiful, that make me very happy. Sadly my husband does not share the same passion for my sport. For a number of years Danny lived during the week in a flat Down South, near to his office. (Yes, I think it must be my fault.) This was furnished a bit like Joey & Chandler’s apartment in ‘Friends’, only without the big ceramic greyhound. He was happy there with nothing but a leather lazy-boy, a big TV and four bare walls with holes in. In his absence I was needed to be a ‘stay at home mum’, and, looking back, I think my ‘collecting’ was a symptom of something, and the accumulation of ‘stuff’ became a juicy big bone of contention.
The addition of another little person into the mix, and a dog, meant that my new life was spent in an endless pursuit of ‘homes’ for everything. The detritus of childhood; pasta pictures, crayons, lego, story books and beads, so many beads, not to mention chewed rubber toys and dried pig’s ears, spread across the house like a verminous infestation, and mingled with my overflowing trays of paperwork and teetering piles of recipe books. Ikea once again stepped into the fray and provided countless combinations of ‘storage solutons’. GLIST, TROFAST and HOL became my friends and offered temporary repositories for the less picturesque heaps of stuff.
Then I ran away.
I made up a ‘job’ for me to do, and spent long hours doing it. There, in my little Art Gallery in town, I was able to order things, create clean lines and stylish sets with exquisite hand made things and stunning works of art. It was a bit like having a beautiful life sized doll’s house to play with, where I had complete control. There was no clutter, and no dust, no toys and certainly no crumbs, (apart from the morning after a PV).
In an ironic twist, my PR lady back then recommended that because my house was so ‘interesting’ I might get a feature in one of the glossies, and free publicity for the gallery. On the morning that the photographer arrived I was still shoving things into drawers and suddenly noticing ghastly piles of stuff that I had gone blind to. I would die of shame if I saw those pictures now, and needless to say we were NOT featured in Homes and Gardens, Country Living, or even The Hull Journal.
I hid myself away at ART&ROSE Gallery for nearly five years before admitting defeat, Pocklington was too small, and old fashioned to support a venture like mine, and poor Woodgarth reproached me pitifully from under the weight of years of neglect. It was time to come home and attempt ‘life laundry‘ on a grand scale.
So I have dealt, like an exterminator in full NBC suit, with particularly toxic corners of the house. In the living room, where once a millefeuille of old birthday cards, notebooks, checkbook stubs, and children’s momentos engulfed an antique bureau, there is now order. I have gutted the children’s bedrooms and ejected literally tonnes of old clothes, toys and books, and I’m on a roll.
Don’t get me wrong, the collecting continues, I’ll never stop hunting, but I have it under control. The discovery of an immaculate 1960’s Danish elm sideboard for £35 on a local Facebook selling page has meant that the ‘nightmare bureau corner’ is transformed into an uncluttered zone of mid-century design cool.
Enlisting the help of a decorator in October meant that I had to pack everything away and empty the shelves in the living room and snug. While we were at it, we had new carpets fitted. In twelve years the brilliant white walls had become a grim shade of mottled magnolia, and the woodwork a sickly clotted cream. We had grown accustomed to the comfy worn out feel, but now that Rose is less likely to try out her magic markers on the walls, and Arthur has learnt to remove his rugby boots before traipsing round the house, it feels like a good time to freshen up this weary old place. Apologies to all the interior designers, but, given that we have so many colourful possessions, we opted again for a blank canvas of brilliant white walls and oatmeal floors.
After the builder, (we also ripped out an old set of french windows between the living room and the dining room) the decorator and the carpet fitter left, and the dust, (Oh, the dust!), had settled, I began to unpack, and with each box I was able to divide the contents into keepers and non-keepers. I looked at each object emerging from the scrunched up newspaper and asked myself, “Would that make my heart skip a beat if I spotted it in the window of Liberty?” and if the answer was “No”, it went into a new box labelled, BOOTFAIR.
The same goes for the snug. Millions of little gee-gaws, whimsies and what-nots have been stowed away, or relegated to the Bootfair Box, the games cupboard has been overhauled, and the ‘museum’ has had a refurb, but being the part of the house built in the 1900s, I have retained the Victorian styling in here, so my 1900 Family wedding portrait, and OTT Sanderson ‘Glade’ curtains remain.
The Cull justified my acquisition of some key new items to complete the grown up styling of the living room. Where once the children and I would roll about on the rug or do ‘Strictly’ numbers to loud music, there is now a gorgeous Danish teak coffee table found on Ebay (Although we will probably still do the dancing, because it’s easily pushed out of the way) The faded green B&Q standard lamp has been given a new identity in bright yellow enamel paint, with a genuine retro fabric shade also courtesy of Ebay. (I became so hung up on lampshades, I was shocked!) And the faithful old red Ektorps have been customised with a new set of white loose covers that I have dipped in Dylon Ocean Blue. I spent a long time searching out the perfect sizzling shade and although it has a vaguely tie-dye finish, I love it very much, and it compliments my collection of 1960’s Copenhagen Pottery.
The knackered old cast iron stove has been replaced with a sleek new Jotul, its big window reveals a mesmerising display of languid flames, which draws your gaze on chilly days. And the old cracked wall behind it has a smart new coat of split face slate tiles.
So here we are, the whole family nestled into a new pattern of living. The children have grown big and worldly and our marriage has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous (mis)fortune. This room has become the centre of the home again, and as I write this, Enormoboy is slumped comfortably in the armchair listening to hip-hop on his iphone, Danny the crossword genius is resplendent in his newly-restored Natuzzi recliner, Rosa Beauty is stretched out on the chaise researching lipsticks online for her vlog, and we are joined by a sleepy Badger and Ginger, lured here by the warmth of the fire. I am curled up on the big blue sofa feeling old, but happy. All too soon it will be just me and Danny again, and I shall look back on those chaotic days with fondness. But for now, it feels good to know that there are positively NO spiders lurking in this place, and if I need to, I can lay my hand on a cheque book stub from 2014 in a heartbeat.
Tomorrow, I tackle the sunroom, and next spring Phase Two starts. Watch this space…
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