At home with novelist Catherine Alliott

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Catherine Alliott took on a dilapidated house in the Chilterns and turned it from a wreck into a haven. She explains how she did it - and why she loves her rural renovation

I spent the first two years in this house living in my coat, running from fire to fire. None of the windows fitted and everything rattled; nothing that we needed actually worked. The children had to sleep on the landing for a long time. The whole place was barely habitable. We had builders come in and they lived in a caravan in the back garden for over a year – they became like family.

We’ve now been here almost 10 years to the day. Somebody told me there was a wreck for sale, and it certainly was that. The place had been used as a livery yard, and was neither owned nor loved. Despite this, the location was irresistible. I wouldn’t want to live on the top of a hill, or in a valley; we’re situated somewhere in between, looking out over the Chilterns, between Aylesbury and Tring. It’s a quiet location, which makes it rather a thoughtful place to be. I grew up in a semi-rural environment, with a field at the back of the house. It was less rambling than where I am now, with less wilderness, and felt more ordered than where we live now.

The outdoors area is rather beautiful, but when we arrived it was a jungle up to the front door. We had to go out with scythes just to create a pathway; there were bathtubs, tyres and old cars on jacks. Once we could see what was there, we started to landscape the garden ourselves.

Little by little we cut back from the house, and found that there were flower beds beneath the rubble, with roses and honeysuckle galore. It was like finding a secret garden. We only finished everything out there about two years ago.

It was an arduous process, at times I thought, “what have we done? We had a perfectly nice house and have thrown ourselves into this madness!”

At some point in its history, previous tenants had removed anything from the house that was architecturally attractive. All the fireplaces had been ripped out, but there were still eight chimneys, so we spent a lot of time at architectural salvage yards, finding replacements for these and for the cornices, doors and beams. I salivate when I get to these places. We found lots of lovely old mirrors, too, and moved on to junk shops and auctions to find extra pieces. It took five long years for things to come together inside. I have rather firm ideas about what I like, but hope to be pragmatic, too. That’s the good thing about staying in a house while you renovate, you get a feel of how you’ll use the space and what will work.

We started with the kitchen. I’d recently been to stay at a beautiful chateau in France and wanted to recreate that effect in our kitchen. We recreated the fireplace in the chateau, based on photos I’d taken, and raised the ceiling by 11 feet. Once we’d managed to pull the kitchen off, we moved to the children’s rooms.

They are now adamant I should have let them have a hand in the design, but they were only four, six and eight years old, respectively, so I think they might not have had much of a coherent idea. Our master bedroom is again rather French in influence. It’s elegant, in cool blue and white. I like to have an oasis in the bedroom. My study is where I write all my books. I have a large wood fire, and the whole effect is very cosy: red walls with rather tatty furniture, and filled with books and pictures.

I keep thinking it could do with an update, but it’s all so comfy. I like to sit in my old leather armchair by the window looking over the front of the house, and out over the hills beyond.

I was based in London for a while when I was younger, but found myself at an age when I wanted to open my back door, put my dogs on a lead and head off where my mood takes me.

There’s no way I’d ever want to move again. Not least because I simply haven’t the energy to replicate such a massive project!

Interview by Charlotte Philby

Catherine Alliott is the author of nine best-selling novels, the first of which she started writing under her desk while working as an advertising copywriter. Her books include ‘A Crowded Marriage’ and ‘Rosie Meadows Regrets’. She lives on the Herts/ Bucks border with her husband and three children, and her latest and tenth novel, ‘The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton’, is published by Penguin.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola, writes Ian Herbert
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn