May 30th, 2020
An Argentinian cousin of my fathers once said to me – you do not choose a house – it chooses you. And I have to say she was totally right.
Having moved rather a lot since leaving my home in NZ in my early twenties I have found that some houses gracefully accept you, others grab you by the scruff of the neck and they also turf you out when they are sick of you … or in one case a house woke us in the middle of the night till we left…
The feeling needs to be mutual. I have a strong feeling when I go into a house, part of it is based on the aesthetics and part on the atmosphere which is made up by a myriad of things including light, proportions, ceiling height etc – and with the feeling of a house. I am never sure if that has anything to do the the past inhabitants … or the ones still living on in the ether.
It also has to do with the way the house sits within nature – how connected it is. Wardington Manor where I now live with my New Zealand husband and three children is smothered in climbers and it’s wonky windows welcome tendrils of Wisteria and roses creeping in through the cracks.
Butterflies flit all winter around the library and in late spring they escape out into the garden and then the moths and bees arrive to take their place.
This all makes the house feel alive.
The other important thing for me is books .. their warmth and the endless possibilities contained within them giving you the ability to climb inside them and disappear into another world.
Pictures books and novels … like old friends lining the walls. I always think if I end up in a council flat or an old peoples home I can always line every inch of it with books and textiles.
Stacks of book lie in every room on tables on floors.
I have always fantasied about the world stopping for a few months so I can catch up and have time to do a very long list of things like sort all the books … and in a way the world has stopped these last few months …. but I missed that window as flower and food production demanded attention! Part of me rather likes the impermanence of living in a disorganised house ( I can hear Henrietta Courtauld (my dearest friend in the world and business partner in The Land Gardeners) sighing!) – there is always that possibility of picking it all up and moving on. ..
This is a boiled wool Danish Great coat which lingers around with a couple of other long red hunting coats for when it gets cold … When we first moved in there was a very oil hungry boiler which we used very sparingly… as it cost a fortune and because as kiwis from the South Island we had grown up in cold houses with no central heating. As children we used to dash from the rooms with open fires clutching hot water bottles to our bedrooms in winter with at least two thick jerseys on, and often a hat. We bought these coats in Copenhagen in junk shops on Ravensborggade along with my other treasured items … pressed metal trays!
We live our life taking trays of food, drink or tea to different parts of the house end garden. They are brilliant as they are strong and light!
Ikea has made some a few years ago which I planned to paint different colours … (another job for when my world slows down)
One of the few spots to loll about in the house due to the indescribably comfy Bunny sofa which I got from the charming and talented Lulu Lytle from Soane Britain – possibly the only luxurious thing we own…and it gets better each year!
Both cushions are Soane as well … I dream of lining a whole room in those stripes….
Golly – I almost forgot … flowers or foliage in the house is what makes it come alive – they can change the feeling of a room and their scent can be felt from the other end of the house.
Henrietta and I always are always dragging in flowers to fill the house before we settle down to work in the top of the library, from huge branches of blossom to tiny Violets stuffed in egg cups.
The generous spirited Charlie McCormick gave me a full set of his wonderful seaweed prints and I promptly put them in yellow frames and scattered them thorough out the house and they never fail to make me smile and think of him.
Lying over hall chairs and peeping out of chests are dress-ups and costumes. The children spent their childhood always in dress ups. When I lived in France for two years with George and Violet when they were little they were either running around in the garden and fields naked or in dress ups.What do I love about them so much …the fabrics, the colours and the details …
I love the hand stitching and old linings and ribbon. I was a milliner in NY for a while and I used to adore fossicking around in the trimmings shops on the west side in mid town.
An asymmetric ball gown from the 80’s hangs in my bathroom … it is too big but there is something about the pink satin and the black velvet which I rather love..
An old French ruched frockcoat in our bedroom and a few Venetian masks on my dresser…
Prints of costumes in the hall
I endlessly love the various colours and details – often use these as inspiration for planting schemes.
Fabric and paper banners found in flea markets in France hanging in a study and hall.
The one place in the whole house that is not gathering piles of dust and the only closed cabinet in the kitchen
I keep meaning to hang these pictures – one is a picture of pressed flowers from Wardington made by a dear friend Emmanuel Taillard (www.victoreemmanuel.fr) and an Emma Tennant (www.katiepertwee.com) watercolour. Both of which I love and can’t quite get them out of my way and onto a wall – I love that I have to move them regularly to get a cookbook ….
The bright very uplifting woad flower on the table. Some say its roots can be a wonderful antiviral!!
Every meal we have candles and large white table napkins …. and since we are going solo in isolation I decided we could use napkin rings to cut down on washing
but as you can see we are not really a napkin ring family.
No kitchen cupboards for us … I love to see where everything is … and also so others who are staying can find everything.
Above is the most delicate Swedish vase given to me by the wonderful eagle eyed Lulu Lytle, www.soane.co.uk.
Golly I think this must be the last three remaining cups with handles!
The other thing I have been loving is paintings of landscapes … not sure if this is my way of travelling when I can’t…
And I am mad about the variations of greens… I placed this Danish painting at the top of a staircase I use daily in the winter when I was gasping for green…
We have set up in one of the spare rooms and Violet and I are snatching moments diving into the world of colour.
I had forgotten the process of mixing and remixing oils and the infinite possibilities and colours you end up with… each time time is a new journey
We recently covered the walls of the only loo on the ground floor – known as the scary loo (one of only two spots in the house that has a strange atmosphere) with the the photocopied layouts of our latest book. It has cheered the space up and I am rather liking the book more in black and white.
Wills cigarette flowers for entertainment
Loving thick paint applied with pallet knives.
I love a staple gun and fabrics to change around a room or atmosphere …nothing is permanent. I remember racing around with staple guns with Forbes’s cousin Lucy Elworthy (www.lucyelworthy.co.uk) before we had a crowd coming to stay – it was like set dressing – immediate and fun and not too considered!
The various textiles remind me of places we have been.
Crewel work seems to thrive in this house … dancing effortlessly with the Arts and Crafts plasterwork in the hallways
Painted leather screen
A changing room for bathing, now a cupboard in a spare room.
I found these chairs on the street just before lockdown at the top of Portobello Road – too mannered for this house so they are floating around until they can get to our home in France.
This house has a strong personality and is rather fussy about too much froth. But my distant French genes always fall for a bit of tatty flounce.
The colourful swirls of dried tulip petals keep their colour and form long after they fall.
The flower room after a flurry or flowers have gone off. This year for the first time we have been sending out vegetable boxes and flowers locally which has felt very right
The walls are also covered in A4 photocopies of pictures of the family – my favourite wallpaper – or they are plopped into cheap frames … when they are all away I have them near. This house demands a kind of honest direct approach and I rather love the feeling of camping with our rag tag belongings whose only value is something that caught my eye – and often that is the shaggy things that others would skip over. I do have French genes but when it comes to spending my Scottish ones come to the fore. And growing up in New Zealand – where the countryside is so exquisite and the majority of the architecture is not – one rifled through junk shops hungry for something with a sense of history, a story to tell, or with a texture or colour that was not readily available in such a young country.
Text and images all by Bridget Elworthy at Wardington Manor
The Land Gardeners : Cut Flowers by Bridget Elworth and Henrietta Courtauld
AND NOW ANNOUNCING !
their brand new online pop up magazine …
Very grateful thanks to Bridget @thelandgardeners for writing this, the photos and words are all hers