Country and western: Lou Rhodes' communal gothic manor house
Many performers are based in the capital, but not singer Lou Rhodes. Her communal home in rural Wiltshire is both spacious and sociable
Wednesday 24 October 2007
I live in a community in a Gothic manor house, near the village of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. I had been living at Ridge Farm community on the Surrey-Sussex border. Last year the community ceased to exist, and the place was going to become a religious retreat centre, so I had to move. I didn't want an ordinary house and found the Frankleigh House community on the website, Diggers & Dreamers (www.diggersanddreamers.org.uk).
The guys who set up this community bought the manor house 10 years ago. They were home-schooling their children and wanted a big space to live in a communal setting so the children could have a social life. The property had actually once been a Steiner School and was derelict for a long time. They renovated the property and divided it into apartments. Five years ago the place was split in half because there was a political rift. On my side – Frankleigh House – there are six apartments and on the other – The Courtyard – there are a few more.
Frankleigh House and The Courtyard have different set-ups in terms of organisation. My side is less communal, but we still have monthly meetings and work days on the grounds. Our communal space is like Hogwarts. There's a big old door at the front of the house which leads into the oak-panelled corridor and lobby. It's great for parties and has good acoustics for music events. We had a folk night a while ago – most people who live here are musicians. Within Frankleigh House nobody locks their doors, so we wander in and out of one another's apartments. It's a lovely atmosphere for my children – Reuben, who's nine and Solomon, who's six. None of the children here are home-schooled now. They all go to the local school across the fields.
My apartment wasn't cheap and I have a huge mortgage. But compared to what you'd get for the same money in London, there's no comparison. I've a four-bedroom apartment with high ceilings, a work room and an enormous kitchen. In London you'd pay a million plus for 18th-century architecture and the sort of grounds we have.
We've a big front garden, two fields, a swimming pool and woodland. Reuben and Solomon have dens in the woods and are barefoot and doing their own thing a lot of the time.
The main entrance to my place is on the ground floor, as is my kitchen, work room and a toilet. The rest of the apartment is on the first floor. The kitchen is the reason I fell in love with the place. It's spacious with a dark green Aga, two knackered sofas and a big table. My work room is a dive, but I like it that way. There's an old carpenter's work bench that one of my neighbours gave me. I've my guitars and amp, a desk, easel and cupboard for my paints and charcoals and I've lots of old instruments as well – I've a passion for zithers.
We moved in last October and then I was writing my album and touring Australia. So now is the time when I've started doing stuff. I had to soundproof my bedroom floor as a term of the sale. The cheap way would have been to put down carpet but, oh no, I wasn't going to do that. It's an elm floor so the floorboards were beautiful. The whole floor had to come up and the soundproofing put underneath. A lot of the floorboards were damaged, so I had to source reclaimed elm. It cost far too much – between one and two thousand pounds.
My bedroom is my pride and joy. I went to Fired Earth for taupe paint for the walls. I'm a Buddhist and I wanted the room to be calm. If the house is busy, I retreat to my room where I've meditation cushions and I do yoga. My room is the old Steiner School sewing room and has big floor-to-ceiling cupboards where there are still kids' names on the shelves.
I've been sleeping on a futon on the floor because I haven't found a bed I like. The room needs a king-size bed, but most are either too ornate or bland and modern. The right one will appear at some stage. Above my futon is a painting called The Spirit. It's the sleeve for my new single, "The Rain". It's dark with a spirit face shining out and it blesses the room in a way. I've a chaise longue in my bedroom which was passed down through the family. It's spent most of its existence with horsehair falling out, but I've just had it reupholstered in khaki velvet.
The sitting room looks like a barn and is open to the eaves. I've had it measured for sisal flooring, and there's a hole in the wall as I am having a wood burning stove put in for winter. The room used to be the school toilet block, but you'd never guess. Reuben sleeps in a mezzanine space above the sitting room, which was used as an office by the previous owners. It's like a tree house, with a circular window looking over the sitting room so he can spy on us.
Off the sitting room is a corridor with the bathroom, my bedroom, Solomon's room and the spare room. My mother and stepfather live at Frankleigh House too, but only have a studio apartment, so they sleep in my spare bedroom. It's great when I go on tour – I don't have to send the kids anywhere to be looked after.
Lou Rhodes was nominated for a Mercury Award last year for her debut solo album Beloved One. Previously one half of the duo Lamb, Rhodes's new solo album, Bloom, is out now and she is playing the Bloomsbury Ballroom tonight. Now in her mid-forties, she lives in a commune with shared spaces and grounds in Bradford on Avon, near Bath, with her two sons.
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