Apparently what we all need now in our houses is the “Soho House Look”, as described in the pages of a new style guide to the famous private club which purports to give secrets of its interior design to the humble homeowner. As far as I can make out, the formula is a crafty mishmash of velvet sofas, seven (count ’em) pillows on each bed and proper-sized duvets. Yes, it’s that simple. Do not, ever, toy with putting a kingsize duvet on a super-kingsize bed. There is nothing worse, apparently.
Of course, style guides have existed for a long time; the current show about Georgian living at the British Library tells of Thomas Chippendale’s book The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754), which showed how to emulate the elegant designs he pioneered; it ran to several editions, and was translated into French.
The thing about a style guide, however, even one from the fashionable Soho House, is that you can ignore it. Or never open it in the first place. To inflict a major change on your house and how you live in it, I find that direct interaction with your peers achieves a far more revolutionary result.
During the past six weeks, I have been gripped by an urgent need to re-style, refurbish and essentially recharge my house. From top to bottom. I have changed all the blown light bulbs, and commanded an electrician to mend the broken lights. I have spring-cleaned the larder, and given away bag-loads of clothes, toys and books. I have bought a new wardrobe (Gumtree), a dinner table from Ebay and several large boxes for organised storage of towels, sheets and bags. I have repositioned every single music manuscript on the shelves into order of instrument (yes, I know how bourgeois that sounds). Even my underwear is now in matched sets (great tip from Anthea Turner, this; hook the correct bra around the correct knickers so they are always linked in your drawer). The house now looks so ordered it resembles a stage set of an Ayckbourn play awaiting Act One. My children tip-toe around it in awe.
My manic behaviour is nothing to do with Soho House, or anything like it. It is all thanks to a house swap over Christmas, when we traded places with a Canadian family. This family, it transpired, live in a state of extreme tidiness the like of which I have never before experienced. Their kitchen was a shrine to the Ziploc bag and Tupperware box. Every single item of food was in a labelled tin. Sheets and blankets were stored in towers of soft canvas bags. Torches were in serried ranks according to height. All right, this Canadian family lived in a humid Mexican jungle, where armies of marching ants would turn up at the scent of a single grape, and a scorpion once landed on our bed, but all the same. Theirs was a scientific scale of cleanliness.
Of course, while we were in Mexico giggling at interlocking sandwich boxes, alphabetically organised DVDs and sealed pouches of Special K, the Canadians were getting down to business chez nous. Returning home to London, we found our kitchen had been completely reordered. Drawers and cupboards revealed neatly stacked crockery and glasses. There were even noise-reducing pads stuck on the feet of our chairs, something I have been meaning to do for about … four years. They left a lovely thank-you card, but clearly they had been unable to exist in our everyday mess.
Publishers don’t get it. We don’t care about the concerns of hoteliers. We don’t want to make our houses look like private members’ clubs. What we care about is the approval of our peers.
I now stalk about the place brandishing a J-cloth and a can of Method Lavender Spray, folding tea towels and polishing picture frames for the approval of a family who live 6,000 miles away and who I am unlikely ever to meet again. The horror of being thought you live like a slattern. I still feel ashamed.
Less red carpet, more real people
My favourite moment in the TV coverage of the Baftas is always at the end, after all the big gongs have been awarded, and the Fellowship has gone to someone who looks really surprised to have got it, but then trots out a perfect rendition of Prospero’s speech.
It is the run-down of the “minor” awards – the ones which don’t justify the accolade of proper TV coverage because they don’t involve a Hollywood star. Awards for costume, set, special effects, sound, and so on. They go to people unknown outside the business, and because they are not Hollywood stars, they are normal looking people. They vary in height, and weight. They sport their own clothes and jewellery, not ones on loan from PR companies. They have done their own hair and make-up. They have not had their faces frozen by Botox, or surgically lifted, and they do not seem to have had physical enlargements of any description. In fact, with their wrinkles and wonky teeth and tousled hair, they are about a million miles away from the groomed sausage factory of the red carpet, and they look happy and relaxed and wonderful.