I was chatting with a local shop owner, a very nice guy whose own house renovation is nearly finished. Having small children, he and his family spent a year in a rented house. He said that while he was pleased with the outcome of the project, some elements might have been more successful had they stayed in the house and allowed them to ‘evolve’ over time. This rang very true with me, because one of the things I love about buildings is the way they can adapt and evolve to suit purpose. I am glad that Baz and I have never had the budget to remodel our home in one hit, though I realise that this says as much about me and my acceptance of ongoing chaos as it does about people who are sensible enough to do things that way
At the house in France, it was tempting to walk in and assign rooms immediately. Initially I wanted to move the kitchen and could see no value in keeping the current one. Now I appreciate it much more, having spent time alone there with the luxury of having both a kettle and a fridge (chamomile tea and sandwiches tasted like heaven). It has lots of natural light from the stairwell and is a really charming little room
The 1950s/60s double-drainer sink scrubbed up like new. There’s no running water yet, but I was able to bring water in from the garage tap to wash up. The chimney breast is quaint and it has a shelf where I put wine bottles, against the backdrop of truly vintage grey paint and yellow and black tiles (note that I haven’t mentioned the hideous units and fabric pelmet yet). There is a useful metal work surface too. In fact, I realised not only how comfortable I was there with so little, but how having too much comfort might actually take the fun out of it a bit. There will have to be changes, but I’m no longer in a hurry to make those decisions and I want to see what else the house has to tell me.
This is one of my most cherished items. The Edwardian tiled bathroom in our family home fell victim to an avocado bathroom suite in the early 1970s, complete with blue and purple floral vinyl on the walls. Prior to this there were a mixture of highly glazed white and green tiles, and a cast iron bath, installed when the house was built as a show home in 1911. The standout tiles for me then and still now were these colourful tubelined ones just below border level and I was completely fascinated by them. Some of the glazing was crazed, some were chipped or broken and I had my favourites which I used to run my fingers over as I was towelling off. Yet this bathroom was designated for destruction. The chipped and stained bath with its loudly gurgling plumbing was in need of replacement, and we all wanted a bath with a shower rather than the miserable rubbery hose-thing that fit onto the taps. I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to the broken and perished brown lino which disguised the frequent movement of large spiders across the floor, and the single-glazed window with its emergency winter plastic sheeting held in place by drawing pins was by no means warm. The only thing I couldn’t accept as a small child was the loss of all these sumptuous comforting tiles with their stunning colours which I drank in on a daily basis. Life was about to change – the 70s had arrived
When the tiles were removed I begged my parents to save me at least one of them, and I have kept this – the only complete one we salvaged – ever since. I have this tile on display, and as a single tube-lined tile it remains elegant, fluid and organic, a thing of great beauty. As a part of a complete scheme it was hugely stylish and gorgeous
The tile still fascinates and inspires me, and is a design that I haven’t seen since. That bathroom is a constant source of inspiration. It’s not that ours was any more beautiful than anyone else’s bathroom, but it was cosy and homely in a way that bathrooms used to be, with its Lloyd Loom-style linen basket and red spotty curtains. The backlash to the 1970s bathroom suites is the current tasteful trend for clean functional lines and beige tiles. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and I admit that I succumbed to it at home when we replaced our existing 1980s pale pink suite, but our bathroom in France has to be the perfect place to indulge myself with beautiful tiles and a roll top bath. I actually hope it gurgles when it empties!