My Home: Alastair Sawday, travel publisher

He's famous for knowing the best hotels in Britain and the world, but Alastair Sawday is happy to put down roots in this Bristol townhouse
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The Independent Online

The travel publisher and environmentalist Alastair Sawday, 60, lives in Bristol with his wife, Em, and dog, Sukie

I've lived in this house for most of my adult life. My wife, Em, and I moved here in 1972, when we relocated from Suffolk to Bristol. At the time I had just started a new job working for the Quakers, looking after Ugandan refugees.

Bristol seemed a million miles away from Suffolk and I completely fell in love with it. It has a great cultural life, busy streets, a thriving university, it had a huge variety of people, beautiful buildings and a fascinating harbour and canals.

It offers much of what London has, without the hassle. Plus, you can escape from Bristol very quickly, as opposed to London, where I often end up feeling trapped.

Our house was very different then. It had been divided up into three different houses, all of which were empty and in a ruinous state. We took on the project of rebuilding the whole place, which took years.

My wife and I spent the first year camped in one tiny room at the top of the house. It was very primitive - our water supply was a hosepipe pushed through one of the windows - but we loved it.

It was a huge renovation job. There were over 250 tons of rubbish to dispose of and the building had dry rot everywhere.

The main building work was completed in about 12 months, but it took me another three years to just strip the paint off the doors, complete the floorboards and mend the cornicing.

Our house was a great place to bring up children and our two sons, Toby and Rowan, loved it: we have a huge communal garden that is reached by French windows from the kitchen. All the houses in the street share the garden and it is wonderful in summer as we have a lot of barbecues and parties. One of the wonderful things about our house is the fact it has such high ceilings.

This has meant that we had the space to create two levels, and so practically every room is galleried.

Above the kitchen is a galleried alcove, which is my wife's office. We both love the kitchen and last year we finally got round to redecorating it - at last an attempt to do a decent job.

Now it is beautiful; it is decorated in slate and marble, with gorgeous colours from Colefax and Fowler. One of my favourite areas of the house is the landing on the stairway. I have a lush arrangement of plants there and a plaster-cast sculpture of Toby and Rowan.

My wife asked the artist Gilly Sutton to make it as a present for my 60th birthday. I had no idea she was going to do that - it is one of the most wonderful presents I have ever received.

We're not really interested in style or glamour. I hardly buy anything and never go shopping. The only thing I have rather a lot of is books - but when you've been around as long as I have its hard not to accumulate a few tomes.

Most of the objects we have in our house are things we stumbled across or inherited. Now they seem to fit so well, that it would be a shame to get rid of them.

We also have quite a lot of Indian furniture. I was born in Kashmir and my father worked there as a lawyer for many years, and so I developed a love of Indian objects. We bought our bed in Delhi and had it shipped over. We also have a beautiful chest at the end of the bed, which is an Indian antique. Some of our furniture I even ended up making myself, like our bedroom wardrobes.

Apart from the odd piece of Indian furniture, I don't really collect anything but I do like buying paintings. Most of my collection is really just drawings of our children, and we have a few Japanese prints.

My one real extravagance was a Bechstein baby grand piano. I bought it for £6,000 about 15 years ago. I used to play a lot of classical and jazz music on it, but now my boys just have a go every now and then.

One thing that is very important to us now is trying to live as conscienciously as possible with regard to the planet. I recently renovated my office to make it completely eco-friendly.

It is slightly harder to make the whole house eco-friendly as it is an old Victorian building, and there are certain factors that you just can't change, but we try to live a 'green' existence as much as we possibly can.

We recently exchanged our old fridge for one that uses the least amount of electricity possible, the heating is very rarely on and we have smokeless, fuel-burning fires in all the rooms.

Also, we recycle as much as possible and have two huge recycling boxes in the kitchen: one for papers and one for plastic.

Most people expect far too much from modern life. They believe they should have every luxury imaginable. Personally, I'd be happy to live a very simple life - you only really need three things for a comfortable existence: a bed, a garden and a few good books.

One Planet Living is published by Alastair Sawday Publishing. www.specialplacestostay.com

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