I’ve been to some rather nice old houses under the historic houses membership scheme. The beauty of this heritage site is that the homes/properties must still be living homes. Unlike the major trust which is quite the opposite – one’s property can only be accepted onto their list if it is unlived in and likely to become seriously unloved. Many of the trust’s places are not all pretty, but all need to have something seriously interesting that the nation needs to safeguard. They hang on to the best example of some back to back terraced houses for example. Nothing even vaguely romantic or beautiful there but the design and interiors are critical to our understanding of how the very poorest members of society had to live. They also own a 1905 house in the East Midlands which has remained little changed from the day it was built – from when a particular family member bought it back. No one embelished it from 1932 onwards. So again, the design and interiors have been truly influential in the way we view the Edwardian family house.
We live very comfortably, there is no doubt of that. Our country does have a superb safety record with buldings and industry in general. We invented health and safety and our unions are excellent in ensuring companies incorporate the safest methods for their members to work within. When I visit my very best friend who lives abroad, in a very sunny Mediterranean isle, I really appreciate just how safety focused our building indusry has become. I see their home grown builders working on village projects – it leaves a huge amount to be desired too. Although the island ha been a member of the EC in it’s own right for nearly two decades, they are quick to take the monetary hand outs but very slow at implementing the rulings. House building is a bit better now with influences from foreign money but if they can cut corners, they certainly do. The plumbing is still awful so you can’t flush away toilet paper – even in this day and age. The more affluent islanders have homes in the UK and can’t fail to see how ropey the island builds are. Design comes slowly there!
It’s amazing tot hink back to the days of the 1920s and ’30s – the housing was beginning to improve slightly for the average family. The shock of the first world war caused ripples through the nation and cheaper well built houses began to replace the dire tenament blocks and back to back housing with their lack of space, privacy and sanitation. The gradually more affluent of society could now afford to have a semi detached house with three spacious bedrooms, a sculler kitchen and a lounge plus ‘drawing room’. Bathooms were still not automatically added, but an outisde toilet was brick built out the back in the yard. My own grandparents were a little more affluent in 1933 and managed to buy themselves a three beroomed semi which did include the luxury of the bathroom. I don’t recall a lot about that room apart from it was always freeezing cold. The sculler however does still tingle my memory cells. Equally tiny, dark and grim – no fitted cupboards or luxuriously easy to clean sink!
There is one aspect of moving house that I used to love when we were children – being able to pick the colour of our bedroom decor. We moved often because of father’s occupation and as a famly we just grew up being very organised whenever the next move was mooted. Sharing a room with a sibling dented any great ambitions for outlandish personal fancies, jazzy walls or curtains. We were polar opposites and so much scrapping and arguing ensued before our parents entered the fray and played the common sense card! We were always allowed to choose the colour of the walls – within a fairly slender range of colours. Today it’s rare for teens to share a room so they probably dont have the same constraints. Parents though have the difficult task of navigating the demands for ensuites and double sized storage, extra space for huge tvs and gaming areas. It’s all down to good interior design and literally reshaping and building on what’s there. How to make a room version of a silk purse out of sow’s ear in fact!
Some of the loveliest days out for me have been to heritage and historic houses. Those lofty interiors with furniture of the day, the silk wall coverings and bed hangings. I like the hought that so many families have passed through those corridors and slept in those rooms. I wallow in the age of the kitchens, overlooking completely the lack of workspace, or hygiene for that matter. It’s only after you take in several such buildings, of any age, they do become much of a muchness with perhaps the same regency wall paper, Chippendale furiture, massive velvet window drapes and hand made carpets, that you realise that’s exactly how we live in this day and age. All the lovely new housing developments springing up about us will h ave the same sized kitchens with the same design of cabinets, give or take the odd colour choice. But we can engage the services of design and interior experts and have the chane to strike a note of individualism !
When we discuss design, it’s rather like asking a group of people ‘what’s your favourite meal’ . . . it’s so open ended and has no right or wrong answers. Design of a house obviously depends rather on the land available and the amount of money the owner and builder have to produce it. Design of an interior, well that’s entirely a new kettle of fish. I often look over the online presentaitons of houses for sale near me. Some of the design and decor leaves me almost staggering with disbelief – mostly ghastly to my taste of course. A few years ago one of the local houses went on the market with a great blaze of publicity. They’re a loud family anyway and their presence in the road since moving in has not gone unnoticed. To say their decor and style matched this over exhuberance is the greatest understaement ever! Black and grey, black grey & silver, black, grey, silver and red throughout the entire house with bold paisley patterns.
One of the more rewarding aspects of spending an afternoon looking through property and lifestyle magazines is finding out what the latest colour trends are going to be for the next year or so. For a few years we wer blighted with the most ghastly phase of grey, grey & black, grey, red & black, oh and with large chunks of chrome for good measure. Pictures of houses with this style of decor were generally ridiculed by ‘those in the know’ but somehow it didn’t stop them from promoting the same whenever houses needed dressing for an article or editorial. There’s a large house up the road from mine. They are still in the grey & chrome time wharp. Every year the famuly put this house on the market – we see it advertised online and in the agent window but no for sale sign ever outside. After a few fruitless months, they take it off again. The decor hasn’t been changed or 4 years and it looks dated. Let’s hope the agent persuades them to make changes before next year’s effort!
With the sad death recently of a most favourite actress, I have taken the opportunity to step up watching two series of a tv show she came to prominence in during the ’60s. Looking at the fashions is exciting – we were very much in the top end of the swinging sixties for that show and the actress was dressed in ludicrously trendy ‘gear’. The properties featured in this spoof spy/good cop caper also reflect the fashion of the time. Kitchens have the ‘latest’ gadgets which are just slipped into the action – streamlined kitchen design with very modern furniure is to show that the main characters are at the top of their game, they can afford a fantastic London pad and by golly they’ve got the cash to dress it up. Actually the staged sets are desperately flimsy and the continuity editor doesn’t seem to have had time to check that the flapping doors that don’t shut and the door bell rings instread of a door knocker going when the eligible male strolls in.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to have the services of a professional decorator to paint through my house. He was coming over to work on a regular heritage commission but this had been postponed at last minute so he was at a costly loose end for exactly 2 weeks. When my chum told me this, I laughingly said ‘oh send him over here, my place needs a makeover’. Well, she did just that – one skype walkaround showing him my house and suddenly he was here to do the work! To watch a true professional at work was such an eye opener. The meticulous attention to detail, organised route round the jobs and so tidy at the end of each working day. To save us both time and money, he stayed over in my guest room and it worked out very well. Not everyone can be this lucky – getting an interior decorator at any time can be challenging but to get a real craftsman, staying on the spot is a miracle I’ve appreciated every single day since.
There’s nothing lovelier for the young newly house owning couple, than to be needing to utilise a bedroom for nursery purposes – this is such a special and exciting time. Apart from the colour scheme, thoughts should be put to the sort of furnishings and linens. As many modern families realise, buying lots of everything up front can be a bit of a waste – so many gifts come from the now essential baby shower. They won’t be matching the chosen colour scheme anyway so for the first few months, just concentrating on being warm, clean and ultra safe will be the order of the day. Curtains that can be easily washed will soften the rather hard look of a roller blind – shutters and venetions are all very good but you can’t clean and dust them as quickly and easily and you cannot attach blackout backings as you can with curtains & rollers. The right choice of chests are important too – one that can accommodate a full baby changing mat on top, is excellent. Not every helper will welcome kneeling on the floor to change nappy no. 12 of the day.