Sarah Cracknell: Living the good life

Moving to the country means that singer Sarah Cracknell can raise her children – and her chickens – in style
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The Independent Online

The day my husband and I completed the deal on this house was September 11, 2001. We had no idea what was going on in New York, while we were doing a maniacal victory dance around the trees in the garden in rural Oxfordshire. It wasn't until we got back to our car and found messages on our phones that we found out. That kind of took the fun out of the day. Even though we bought the place seven years ago, we couldn't move in properly until 2005. The house was in a state of utter ruin, so for four years, we'd spend weekdays at our one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill, and the majority of weekends here doing up this little wreck.

When we found it, there was a horrible Eighties-style extension, which we promptly knocked down and replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass. We don't want the house to have too much of one thing, but the basic structure is rather mix-and-match, so we use different furniture and fabric accordingly to break it up. But neither Martin nor I are very daring when it comes to colour. Parts of the house are still cosy and dark, so we fill those bits with contemporary furniture to stop it looking too chintzy. In the new, lighter areas we use bigger, darker pieces, so there is quite a mixed feel to the place.

There is the distinct danger of us not getting much done in a hurry. Our friends joke that when we have an idea for the house, they can expect it to be implemented three years later. We just had the wet room finished – finally – after two years of "umm-ing" and "ahh-ing" about fittings and tiles. But still we're yet to choose a door, which means the whole thing is currently useless. It's not that we can't be bothered; it's just that we both have our own ideas about things. We can't agree on what pictures we want in the house either. I'll say "oh, look, that's nice!" and he'll say: "no, that's terrible!" He's really fussy about art and I haven't a clue. At the moment, we have lots of old photos of Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick and Pete Townsend. But I'd like to get some real pieces.

The place we have now is very different to anywhere I've ever lived before. You might call it a cottage, but really it was more of a smallholding. Parts of the building date back to the seventeenth century, but we can't be exactly sure. It's been like a detective game figuring out exactly what was built and when. We removed the floorboards not long after we moved in and found the remains of brickwork with the wear-and-tear that must have come from an old door. It has been suggested that there was someone living around an old inglenook fireplace at some point. There are also things like an owl hole in the bedroom, which make me believe this might have once been a grain store.

Some people are better at living in the countryside than others. I just love it. In fact, I'm slowly turning in to Barbara Good – I got myself a set of chickens just the other day. Both my husband and I grew up in small villages. I lived in Old Windsor until I was 17, before moving to the city. London had a magnetic pull for me at that age, and I'd spent every weekend catching the train there since I was 13. It was incredibly jammy that I found a little flat on the Kings Road just as I left school. I snapped it up immediately and had a fabulous time living there, except for one bad experience: when I was 18 I decided to have a house-party, which went really well until one of my friends invited everyone from the pub next door. I hid in the broom-cupboard under the stairs. When I finally left that flat, my now-husband, Martin, and I found a place with a communal garden on Ladbroke Grove, west London, which is where we stayed until we found this little place.

These days it's wonderful having friends here to stay. It gives us quality time together. You can sit up all night and then have breakfast together in the morning, rather than sharing a quick meal and then dashing home. The main reason for moving to the countryside was to give the children somewhere to run around. But they've spent so long in front of the TV and video games over they years that they don't know what to do outside. After ten minutes of being outside "playing", they'll come back in and ask me what they should do next. Sometimes I wonder if they need me to show them how to build a camp!

Interview By Charlotte Philby

Sarah Cracknell is the lead singer of Saint Etienne. She lives in rural Oxfordshire with her husband, Martin, and their two children, Spencer, 6, and Sam, 4. St Etienne's latest album London Conversations will be released in January 2009.