Saturday, 18 September 2010

Homes and Houses

There are houses that become homes, and homes that are never mere houses.  I've lived in a few.  You know, the sort of house that starts to take over.  In a friendly way.  Nothing spooky.  But the rooms become so much a part of the person or people that live there that it's impossible to think of one without the other.  My friend Sonya who lived in The Old Mill in Padstow I found impossible to think of without conjuring up the sheer madness of her home - the home with the wooden carved Gothic font rescued from an obscure French Cathedral, the galloping Edwardian carousel horse with a gilded barley twist pole, the stuffed owls playing poker, the hatboxes on the stairs and the hundreds of soda syphons that lined the freezing living room. 
The Bloomsbury lot have been occupying my mind for some weeks now - and this wonderful slim volume has been a real joy to discover.  Bloomsbury in Sussex by Simon Watney is a little treasure trove of facts and snippets of those two sisters, Vanessa and Virginia,  that still linger in our imagination.  Even if we don't know their work, we are all still in thrall it seems to their chosen way of life.
Charleston and Monks House.
Charleston of course, sounds jollier.  Even the name conjures up flappers dancing, whilst Monks House does have a slight ring of gloom.... I loved knowing so much about the houses.  The fact that Virginia, who loathed shopping and felt that the shop keepers mocked her for her shabby dress and inability to make a simple decision, leant on her sister Vanessa heavily for all domestic choices.  "I have ordered some wonderful brightish red-orange stuff for the curtains to be lined and bordered in mauve."
Vanessa was of course the Bloomsbury domestic goddess, but with very little cash.  She urged Virginia to attend a cooking class in Bloomsbury where she distinguished herself by baking her wedding ring into a suet pudding.
Charleston was of course decorated within an inch of it's life - and jolly good it looked too.  Heavily leaning on the new Russian Ballet for inspiration and colours, it was, and still is, an amorous house. With rooms leading off rooms and all with an individual, casual shoes off, collar undone and stays loosened sort of feel to it.
Monks House was different - more formal, very austere and oh - so little comfort. (Neither house was in any way luxurious and must have been so cold in the chilly Sussex winters)  The guests complained amongst themselves, but put up with it as The Wolves's were a joy to be with.  Water from a pump, no electricity and outside 'earth closets'.  All this changed when the money started to come in, but even then there were certainly no frills.  A range in the kitchen, hot water in the bathroom and tiny electric fires in the bedrooms were a big concession.
But - and it's a big BUT, I know....the houses then seemed to sing with the joy that the inhabitants took with their surroundings that very few homes seem to have now. 
Vanessa remarks in later life that she is amazed that they had the energy for so much decorative flair - even the murals were hard to do with their chalk grounding and lime wash.  But I'm so glad they bothered. I leave you with a wonderful painting that hangs on my wall of an impression of Charleston by Jason Lilly.

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