Emma Bridgewater: One home is better than two
When the pottery designer and her family bought their rustic idyll, they liked it so much they ditched their London home
Wednesday 14 September 2005
When we first saw the old rectory, it was in deep winter, but by the time we bought it more than a year later, we had absolutely no idea how ravishing it would look in the summer. We fell for its Irish charm. There were sheep up against the drawing room windows and we had to shoo turkeys and chickens out of the porch to knock at the front door. It did feel terrifically homely. I knew that I wanted a house that wasn't going to be a big struggle. I didn't have a great yearning to do a huge interior design project and there is still lots in the house that I haven't got round to doing. It took us ages to carpet the stairs, but I have put all my effort in the garden and getting on with living.
It is situated a mile from the nearest house, down a muddy drive with a church at the end. The village is across the fields. We used to have a London house as well, but I found having two houses terribly chaotic. The practicalities of where the toothbrush or the novel is drove me completely nuts. So when we bought this place six years ago, we decided to make life simpler and just live in one place.
It wasn't a huge shock. I have always had a real connection to Norfolk. My mother's family comes from here and I have cousins and childhood friends from all around. But it is hard to find a lovely house in Norfolk as it's so sparsely populated.
When we moved in, we even kept the pig that lives in the orchard. We are surrounded by about eight acres including the garden, the field, and a little wood at the edge. The house has six bedrooms and, despite the fact that we should have moved the rather dark kitchen to the drawing room, we didn't tinker with the original layout of the house. Instead we painted the kitchen Lurpak yellow to jolly it up. There is an Aga at one end and a fireplace at the other with two dressers facing each other, holding great big meat-plates and everyday china.
The drawing room has floorboards with a long runner of seagrass made to fit the room, two fireplaces and a grand piano that belonged to Matthew's grandparents. If you duck under the tall sash-windows you get to a veranda that we have just finished building, although it looks old. It is open at the front, with two comfy sofas and a narrow table, and glazed in at the ends. We also built a primitive wooden shed three years ago in the garden, with a window from a reclamation yard and a corrugated iron roof and a fireplace. There's no electricity, just a cranky chandelier, and it's too far away from the house to hear the telephone. We like to eat out here sometimes.
Everyone comes in to the house through the back door. The coat-lined stone-flagged passage is wallpapered with huge-scale ordnance survey maps that we plan routes with. I don't really have a style, but the house is full of furniture and pictures belonging to my mother and grandmother, along with stuff that we have bought more recently in markets or junk shops. What really matters to me is that it feels like a family home. The house is very much about having friends and family to stay. Hospitality is important. This is why I make everyday china because it symbolises those and moments in the day when you stop fussing and sit down together.
The landing upstairs is painted a surprising pale violet - the same colour as my office downstairs, where I have a painting by Julian Trevelyan of a rhinoceros against a purple sky - chosen because the violet colour on the walls suited it very well. Along the landing, there are lots of family pictures, all black and white photographs, including ones of our own children and going back as many as five generations.
The bedrooms are trashed by the children. They started off with sweet Victorian prints and lots of books and now are terrible teenage dens with fairy lights, pictures of Kurt Cobain and dartboards on the walls. I like the children doing what they want, but Elizabeth has really let rip. She has colonised the old playroom downstairs as her bedroom and has a four-poster bed that she bullied Matthew to drag in for her from the barn. She has littered the walls with magazine cuttings of fashion models or rock stars, as well as faces of her friends taken on photocopiers. It is very messy in a wildly creative way. I go in there occasionally with the cleaner and there are lots of mouldy cereal bowls; you can't see the floor properly.
I got rid of the old brass bed in our bedroom. Although it was very pretty, it was hugely uncomfortable, and I swapped it, quite to Matthew's horror until he slept on it, for a new huge king-sized bed from a John Lewis sale. I hung a 19th-century Provençal quilt on a curtain rail to make it look a bit less basic. At the foot of the bed there is a chaise longue with clothes flung all over it.
The main bathroom is tongue-and-groove panelled and has a double-ended bath high under the window, so that you can look out to the garden. It has a little bucket armchair, which I re-covered in French chintz.
I try to make peaceful places around the house for us to be together, and on the landing there's a sofa, suggesting a place where you might sit down and read. Usually, though, there are cats or dogs asleep on it.
It often seems that living in Norfolk is crazy, but each time I get out of the car I'm so glad.
The new Emma Bridgewater autumn catalogue is out now:
tel 020-7371 5489; www.emmabridgewater.co.uk
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