After living in our ‘pocket palace’ for seven and a half years, we are finally settling in. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve always loved this place – even on first viewing, when it was painted stark white throughout; had seventies-style kitchen units, a leaking shower and pathetic electric panel heaters, which struggled to raise the overall temperature to just above lukewarm.
And we have loved living in it, as we renovated and updated, moving our possessions from one room to another – and sometimes out into the garden or the brick-built outhouse, trying to find the perfect permanent location for each piece; nudging ornaments a few centimetres to the left or right, flipping the contents and designation of the living and dining areas from back to front – and back again. Over the years we’ve been together, The Artist and I have gathered all the elements which suit our individual and eclectic tastes – but, in this house, there has always been something missing, that indefinable ingredient which can transform an unloved building into a place called ‘home’.
We’ve systematically worked our way through all the tasks that needed to be done. Central heating was a priority, installed before the first Winter chilled our bones. When the ceiling in the hall began to bow alarmingly, it was time to tear out the rotting shower cubicle above it and ease a full-size bath and wash-hand basin into the awkward space. To allow access, we had to turn the door around and now it opens outwards, whereas previously only a mini-sink could be squeezed in behind it.
The kitchen took a lot longer to design, as a wide concrete step ran across the width of the rear wall, turning the positioning of essentials such as cooker and washing machine into a Krypton Factor challenge. We lived with it for five years, preparing adequate meals on a two-ringed camping stove, a sandwich grill and in a combination microwave. Conventional kitchen designers came and measured up; earnestly listing our priorities, (appalled when I stated, firmly, that I’d rather wash dishes by hand, than install an expensive machine to do the dirty deed) then disappeared, never to be contactable again. It was only when we met a carpenter who shared my vision of turning the stepped area into a mega-wide work surface – made from reclaimed ceiling joists – with shelving for pots and pans beneath, that the simple but effective design took shape.
The Anaglypta wallpaper, which was different on every wall – a hotch-potch of leftover rolls randomly applied and covered in trade emulsion – has been warmed by shades of terra-cotta, raspberry, heather and champagne. Colour schemes which one visitor labelled as ‘courageous’! The psychedelic carpet, with it’s repeating pattern of what looked like quizzical blue owls, made way for bare bare boards, painted to match the walls or covered up again with neutral flooring. It all worked. But somehow it didn’t quite flow.
A couple of weeks ago The Artist came to me, saying, ‘I’ve been thinking …about the upstairs….’ It transpired he’d decided that we should reverse the main bedroom, (at the front of the house and afforded privacy by permanently lowered opaque blinds,) and the studio (at the back, looking out onto the side of a neighbours concrete garage). I agreed that, in principle, this was a good idea, which – at some point in the distant future – might be worth considering.
Interpreting my less-than-enthusiastic response as, ‘yes, brilliant, go ahead!’ he immediately began a game of ‘furniture solitaire’, disassembling the water bed and shunting tables, storage units and computer equipment from one room to another. A chest of drawers containing most of my clothing ended up in the living room; the studio carpet was unceremoniously ripped up and bundled down the stairs and I could hardly form a coherent thought through the commotion of sanding floors, drilling, screwing and refilling said waterbed in it’s new location.
It’s almost done now – and I have to admit that he was right. I’m sitting in my ‘new’ studio, where everything fits more comfortably than it ever has. I can look out on the front garden and people walking dogs along the footpath that skirts it; youths gathering on the patch of green opposite, for a forbidden smoke on their way to school and weary mothers steering wrapped-up toddlers home. Now that it’s winter and the deciduous trees are bare, I can see beyond a couple of unattractive, single-storey industrial units, towards the acres of closely-planted conifers which give the house it’s name of ‘Forest View’.
By contrast, the main bedroom is now a place of peace and tranquility – or will be, when The Artist has finished scraping the floorboards and the fresh paint on them is dry. From the bed you can’t even see the unsightly garage, just sky and trees and – on a cloudless night – the moon. Enchanting, restful, free of clutter and distraction. I’m looking forward to it’s sanctuary.
Since we’ve swapped these two rooms around the whole house feels so much better that we can’t believe we didn’t think of it before. Furniture and ornaments that we’ve been experimentally moving around for years have fallen into their natural resting place. And, although the studio still needs to be properly sorted, I’m already finding that I write more prolifically in here.
‘That’s it, then,’ I said to The Artist last night, as we congratulated ourselves on our combined interior design flair. He agreed .
And then, to my dismay, he added, ‘I’ve been thinking …about the outhouse…..’
I’m saying nothing.