Yet another canvas

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A comfortable home is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience.

Sydney Smith

I always thought a home was a building – a roughly cubic box of brick, glass and roof tiles, made individual by artful décor, expressive colour and beautiful things. I still do, to a certain extent, but I now realise that ‘home’ means much more.

I suppose I never really felt at home as a child and teenager. My parents never let me put my stamp on my room. They worked, so my sister and I trailed all over town (and around Yorkshire in summer) to relatives at weekends and holidays. My roots found it hard to get established. Later, as a wife and mother my house was our family home; and so never really felt mine, as such, involving so much compromise.

I suppose, for some reason, I always felt like a lodger wherever I was. So when I divorced, buying my own house was a big deal. It had to be just right. As a style I edge towards the romanticism and exoticism of the Pre-Raphaelites, Art Nouveau and Victorian/Edwardian Bohemia, with a soupcon of Art Deco. I love the strong elegant lines of the Victorian/Edwardian terraced town house: the space; the height; the huge, lengthy windows, low and deep enough to sit in; the corridors, perfect arenas to display family photos and arty pictures; and steep, twisting staircases with carved, spindled banisters. And that is what I bought – in a very Bohemian and multi-cultural (well the only Bohemian and multi-cultural) part of the City of Hull. I treasured it, adored it, cared for it lovingly (that’s official – the estate agent said so in the brochure when I finally put it up for sale – but that’s to come, later).

When I moved in I found it blemished with 70’s beige, hardboard covered doors and staircase, and more such DIY abominations. So I painted it in strong, rich heritage colours between replaced dado and picture rails, put in ceiling roses and cornicing, and turned it into a designer shrine to my freedom to be me.

I filled the place with rainbow colours, glorious music, fragrant flowers and the fluidly warm enigma that was my half-alien, ghost-watching, black cat Midnight (still there sleeping peacefully, buried in the walled garden after her death at Samhein  2003– when else?)

I planted the walled garden with gorgeous flowering perennials, herbs and fat patio pots, transforming the unhelpfully north facing concrete space into a verdant and magical place where I am certain, to this day, that fairies live. I meditated in the garden, sun-soaked there, read endless novels there, and had many barbecues.  People enjoyed visiting my house and garden, saying it had a friendly, positive feel and asking advice on how to get a similar feel in their homes.

Then disaster struck – really, it was that bad. A pair of noisy young women moved into the upstairs flat next door. After 6 years of heaven, auditory hell descended on to my ambiance-full haven. Music and shouting thudded and blared out, 24/7, day and night, for over a year. The council couldn’t help, the landlady wouldn’t (it was her relative making the racket). I deteriorated into a screaming, sleep deprived harridan but I wasn’t going to be driven from my beautiful home. I succumbed to sick leave from work due to the stress, panic and anxiety attacks, took anti-depressants, whilst my friends and family stood around, watching, helplessly, as I fragmented and disintegrated. Then one otherwise perfectly ordinary day I saw the light – quietly, simply, with not even a blast of trumpet to announce this timely enlightenment: a home is not a house, it’s an idea! The concept of ‘home’ comes from within! Therefore I could start again somewhere else. Duh! When I finally detached emotionally from the building I was able to sell it, and buy somewhere quieter. Yes I would (and do) miss my elegant, spacious, Edwardian ‘Avenues’ house; but life would (and did) go on.

What I bought to replace it was a 1930s semi-detached suburban house, a cottage really. Tiny yes, but it was beautifully renovated inside, if blandly decorated (I could change that). There was a stylish modern galley kitchen (with range, I trembled with delight on seeing it), delightful leaded windows and – bliss – through a Tuscan Villa-like archway,  an Italian floor-tiled conservatory leading out onto a paved patio, and small enclosed potential-full garden, with grass for the grandchildren to play on, and off road parking for me. The whole length of the building was only as big as my previous lounge. It was just a town cottage, really.

The neighbourhood is not so friendly or cosmopolitan, in fact it’s desperately conservative and insular, but I have my corner of heaven back, because what I learnt was that I made my house home. It would be my attitude to my space that would make this new house the friendly, welcoming building that my previous one was.

It is now, seven years on, a tribute to purple and lavender, with classic furniture blending with clean modern paintwork, and lots of plants. There are less pictures, mirrors and other artifacts (not enough room, the scale is all wrong) but the same spirit of beauty, serenity and space is there just like before; the garden is evolving into a mini Italian garden with paving, steps, pond, pergola and even a small maze (the grass was hell to manage)  and lots of scented roses, fruit trees and bushes, and herbs – a wildlife haven; my home is … just another canvas!

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