I help out at a heritage property that has rooms set out in different eras – there is no family ownership now, the last was back in the 1990s, when it was handed over to the charitable trust upon their demise. So there is no one era for which the house is renowned. The rooms do contain a few pieces of furniture left from various owners and the last tenants – of whom was a real society doyenne and entertained in the Hall at every given opportunity. She had cocktail parties in the grand hall, so replaced the drab, if more historically apt armorial features with spledidly huge sofas and generously proportioned armchairs. The ‘chinese room’, and all historical houses have one of those, don’t they?!, has remarkable wallpaper which needs very special care – and her matching cocktail chairs are in stunning green fabric to match the hand painted lovebirds. It’s a delight to hear the visitors making enthusasiastic comments about these rooms.
Whilst waiting in the checkout queue of my favourite posh shop, I was amused by two couples in front of me – both live out in the sticks by the sound of it – seeing fields of white this morning, they jumped in their 4x4s and braved it to the store for urgent supplies. Amid gin, vodka, mixers, packs of lager and one or two food items were Country file and Country life magazines. Also in one trolley, tins of beeswax polish and some new e-cloths. Expecting to be snowed these were bought for their annual wood caring weekend – they do the lot in one fell swoop, and the couple expressed delight that all furniture is in really good shape and it smells divine for weeks on end. Turned out the furniture had been owned by the family back in the 1700s. Now that’s worth a trip to a posh shop for! Hmmm I wonder if you can use beeswax on non wood furniture ………..
We probably all have far more clothese these days than our parents ever had. In fact, I suspect I make more clothes purchases in one year than my mother did in 40 odd years. The trouble is, I don’t dispose of the unloved/ill fitting ones. I have therefore managed to fill evey single space in each wardrobe, in each of the four bedrooms . . . I am fortunate to have fitted wardrobes. Although if I had not got that space, I may well have curtailed my habit. When I need any other furniture, I am extremely careful about checking my needs. The dining suite for example, I checked it matche my existing decor, seated enougth folk, fitted in with the sideboard etc. What I didn’t do though was to check the colour of their wooden legs on my existing dining chairs didn’t clash with the new table. I should have checked before buying . . . 6 new chairs came a month later!
We all have our favourite furnishing schemes and when it comes to home decor, I guess we all feel we know what goes best. . . . . I was therefore totally amazed when visiting an older lady and had a tour around her quaint but fair to say, unique barn cottage. Her place is on the edge of a country lane of odd barns and workers’ cottages that once belonged to the ‘Hall’. My pal bought a run down dump twenty years ago and has steadily done a room at a time. She’s had help from interior designers and builders. Her favourite contractors though were the furniture and antique suppliers. My word she has good taste. Beautiful oak dressers adorn each bedroom and one has a victorian wash stand complee with porcelain bowl and pitcher. The kitchen has free standing cabinets made of oak – new and clean, well fitting doors but that don’t detract from he feeling of stepping back in time that she has most certainly achieved.
Wow what a strange summer we had this year – started off with late snow and frosts with coldest temperatures for years, then suddenly as if by magic a warm spring came, only to be washed and blown away befre a truly amazing summer. Heat and dryness that we’ve never experienced since our UK records began. Thoughts of quiet countryside holidays came to our familie’s collective minds this year – although summer holidays are meant to be on the beach – there was something ghastly about the prospect of sharing my square metre of sandy beach too closely with Joe Public. However the very prospect of a country living, even for a short holiday period is so divine. Gorgeous old buildings with character – not necessarily all beams and thatches, but thick walls, inglenooks; funny little staircases halfway up the wall and oddly unfitted kitchens. knowing families have lived together over the centuries is a lovely feeling.
I really love the idea of living in a thatched cottage. I’m not sure what has brought this back up to the surface but I’ve found myself more than once lately, thinking how to downsize from my current very comfortably proportioned 4 bed detached. The idea is of course pretty ludicrous. I have large furniture here because when I moved in from a smaller place, my then three piece suite looked daft, far too squat and tiny for the size room. so I have room by room changed all the furniture accordingly. To then have to sell this and revert back to doll’s size bed, tiny chest of drawers, small kitchen units etc. is pushing the realms of fantasy. I love the idea of the older real wood country style furniture – it appeals so much more than the modern scandi self builds that feature still in my living room!
You only really appreciate the words country furniture when you have experienced an authentic village house way up in the hills in Cyprus. In a village half way p the Troodos mountains I know of a chap who is almost 101 year old – he and his live in maid/companion live in a simple village house made of stone, with a fireplace and open chimney in the corner of the main room. There are two very basic wood and bamboo chairs and a low slung sofa bed affair made of a wooden frame and bamboo plaited across, this supports a matress made of sheeps wool that is spun and then dyed. Once dry it goes through the family loom in the yard. The ‘matress’ is filled with feathers and more sheeps wool. The matress is then folded to suit a sofa or left flat to use as a bed. The simplicity if wonderful.
Even in a modern house, it is possible to have antique and very old furniture to bring the two worlds together. quite often of course, it is done the other way around. A very old house is ripped apart, walls out and terrifyingly modern kitchens and bathrooms are installed to make it all open plan and clean minimalist lines. But sometimes it can be a real treat to find a family that has been inspired to treat their home like a temple of age and respect for our forebears. Collecting and keeping safe the old country furniture is not so mad – these wonderful pieces need our love and care otherwise it will all be lost for ever. A trestle table, or a tester from the local chapel – these retain links with a local past which otherwise disappears to the usual sad lament. Too late they cry!
I do love going out into the countryside – walking out along the lanes is just so relaxing and therapeautic, most of the time anyway. It can get a bit tense when you have to encounter dog walkers, bike riders, and the like. But when I think back to books and articles on the old country houses, they had a lot more going on along the lanes. Carriages from the big house would take up a vast space, going rather slower than today’s mode of transport. Then there was the twice yearly livestock movements – in the spring there would be the sheep with their lambs turfed out into the grassy fields, as was cattle, pigs and fowl. I like to think of these regular events when I’m sitting in country tea rooms with their lovely old furniture and it feels like I am part of this old unchanging world. At least for a few minutes here and there.
When you have connections with a historic heritage property, the world around you takes on a whole new feeling. I never usually take notice of the age or style of a settee or dining room table. I don’t particularly care about the size or design of the chairs or dresser – although I can tell an antique dresser or trestle table, that much I can manage. Now that I have been a volunteer at a very popular heritage property, I see things from a completely different angle. In their tea room they have table and chair sets that are very quaint looking but actually extremely rugged and hard wearing – for obvious reasons. They would be lovely in a home setting too, as would the heavily adorned dresser on the side wall. These are so in keeping with the era of the house and they look perfect in situ. Knowing the style that suits the house is half the battle.