Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

Being my mother’s daughter, aesthetics has always been a big thing for me in terms of home. My mum never feels completely at home in her dwelling place unless she has made it look and feel the way she wants it to. She lives in a lovely Cornish cottage with wobbly cob walls and beams, but her aesthetic is essentially Scandinavian (which makes sense because she is Swedish), and she had been unhappy with her small, dark kitchen for decades – unhappy to the point of wanting to leave the house. But last year, she and dad had an extension built with a new kitchen that fits her need for light and clean lines and now she is incredibly happy in her home. Here’s a picture of it when it was just finished:

parent kitchenAlthough my aesthetic is a more cluttered one than my mum’s, it has always affected how contented I have felt in my dwellings to the point that, even when I have lived in squats, caravans and benders with almost no money at all, I have tried to find ways to make them please my eye, or at least feel like they belong to me in some way.

In the squatting and travelling world most people had next to no money, and all our furniture and possessions were found in skips or given to us or bought from jumble sales, resulting in what could politely be called an ‘eclectic’ style of home decor. Looking at some of these pictures now it seems funny to think that I loved these rooms in one way or another. Today, I would pay a lot of money not to live in them.

The first is a shot of my first home away from home. It is the top room in a three storey squat in Falmouth in the early eighties.

my room 10 quay hillThe carpet, chair, chair cover and bobbly lamp shade were skip finds, and the pictures were either lifted from gigs or torn out of magazines. I can’t remember where the painting came from. It looks like squalor to me now, but I really liked it then.

The next one is also from the eighties. It’s a squat bedroom I had in Hackney, London. I had a thing about purple in those days, and I spent about a week’s food money on paint. There was no B&Q with shelves and shelves of coloured emulsion then, instead you had to go to a specialist paint shop and pay what seemed a LOT of money to have a pot mixed for you if you wanted a colour other than magnolia or white. The effect in this very old and tatty photograph is – as you can see – pretty garish. I think the red wall hanging was made by my grandmother and is now sadly lost.

london squat roomMy second purple room was in a squatted flat on Stamford Hill Estate.

stamford hill estate roomThe next picture is of the inside of a caravan we lived in on some wasteland when son 1 was small. We had no running water, no electricity (hence the tilly lamp), very little money and no toilet, and we used to visit the local tip regularly because in those days you could buy things for a few pence. We glued some hessian wallpaper up and made curtains from some material we found there. The table came from my parents’ house (I think) and I covered the kitchen cupboards with cut out pictures from magazines and books. Again, I wouldn’t want to live in it now, but it felt very much like home in 1992.

caravan united downs

But this post wasn’t supposed to turn into a bemused peer into my domestically cacophonous past – it’s supposed to be about home and personal aesthetics. It was triggered by a visit to the home of a much loved friend yesterday. This friend, T, has fallen in love with a man, R, whose home is now hers too. Their home is one of the most wondrous places I have ever been, partly because it is incredibly rooted in family and regional history, but also because R has such a strong aesthetic that it saturates every corner of the place. His aesthetic is kind of timeless but in parts surprisingly modern; it’s very traditional but also includes elements of eccentricity that prevents it looking like every other envy-inspiring home in Country Living magazine. Here are some photos.

R and T’s home knocks me for six every time. I find it almost impossibly beautiful, and my friend H and I regard it as a very special treat to visit. Yesterday, however, this wondrous place struck me as even more of a home than ever before. The air had shifted in some way, and it took me a while to realise that of course this was because there has been a new addition to the place – one that brings with it mess and chaos and the need for an occasional plastic object. Here it is:

Seeing how this unutterably lovely little bundle of disruption has affected this place, I realised that although I’ve yearned most of my life for a home I find aesthetically pleasing (and have now finally got one that’s almost there), it’s not the aesthetics after all that actually make the home.

In fact, the times when home feels most homely are when our aesthetics are being disrupted: when we have Christmas in mum’s perfect kitchen and there are people and dogs and mess everywhere; when an otherwise tastefully decorated Christmas tree is hung with odd lumps of paper and glue made by a child’s hands; when there’s a curled up cat and all his cat hairs rumpling up the sofa cushions; when spouse puts a Darth Vader head he found in a skip on the bookshelf next to my tasteful antique map of Cornwall. A home that is TOO visually beautiful can feel a bit intimidating, and I have visited people’s houses in the past that have given me hideous inferiority complexes. Aesthetics will always be important to me because I’m a visual person, but I’m not looking for perfection any more. Perhaps I can put up with the flimsy fake brass door handles I inherited with this house after all.

carlisle_brass_fg27_georgian_shapped_lock_handle

P.s. If you would like to experience the joy of visiting R&T’s house, they offer various types of accomodation at various times of year. Please see their website for further details.

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19 Responses to Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

  1. Sas says:

    Great photos and a great collection of homes!

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more on what makes a home a home. I used to think I wanted my house to look perfect, but with multiple dogs running around, that will never happen–and I’m glad, because like you mentioned, living spaces that are too pristine don’t feel like living spaces at all. I like my home just as it is, even with all of its imperfections (although I would like new countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms–a girl can dream).

  3. Agreed. And I love that home of your friend’s. A place without animals and/or children is not a “Home” at all to me. It has to do with Life and living beings.

  4. This reminded me of a conversation with Pete about whether most people decorate their houses for themselves or for their visitors. It sounds like a simple yes or no question.. but I’m still not always sure which I do!

    • That’s an excellent question.

      To which I don’t have a straightforward answer either… I do think taste is very class-driven in this country as well. Did you see Grayson Perry’s series on it? Brilliant.

  5. shammee says:

    You just nailed it , lolz, I mean the theme & so many interpretations , & d overall post , its wonderful , i will be checking your other weekly challenges now … ;)

  6. So many memories stirred by those first few pics. I’ve been in many places like those ;) But homely nevertheless.

    How interesting, my friends T & N know R over at Botelet (small world) and my friend K has stayed there and said it was gorgeous! It looks absolutely lovely, my favourites are the ladder n queen and the little corrugated iron shed. Oh and the well organised jars in the tool shed. I also have serious lamp and log pile envy now!

  7. tia says:

    Oh my goodness, have just seen your amazing blog. Feel very moved. Most excellent photes, love the collage. I have to say that on Saturday, sharing the spaces with T & H, they felt as warm, homely, lived in and lovely as they ever do.

    Such an interesting blog, as you know I’ve always been obsessed by (and envious of) your incredible aesthetic and the way it translates into the classroom, making it feel inspiring, comfortable, friendly and energised even when you only have 15 torn brown chairs and shiney (but dented and wobbly) laminate desks, white painted walls covered in blu-tack marks and peeling-off-the-wall aged artefacts representing a class where someone like me said “make a poster” because we’d had enough of powerpoint, and a shiney great white board. I think there’s a niche there if ever you want to exploit it ….

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