No place like it


They say that when life gives you lemons then you should make lemonade. Well, I’ve never made lemonade but I’m certainly a believer in trying to do the best with whatever life presents you. I wonder, though, if there might be a scale or spectrum of how you do that, because recently I feel like I’ve been diddling about at the lower end for some time, especially regarding my home. I attempted to make the most of what I had but I never really pushed it any further.

Pondering life in a chateau, aged 11

Home has always been important to me. Wherever I am in the world I spend precious hours pondering how I would make it feel like home. On lonely, windswept islands in the Hebrides and Falklands I asked myself how it could be made more comfortable.  Would a tiny flat in Tokyo work for me?  And how, precisely, would I deal with a vast array of rooms in a drop-dead-gorgeous French chateau? It’s a pleasant form of navel gazing,setting yourself a challenge and seeing how you would cope.

The majority of us want our homes to feel special. For me, it was always about the little touches, changes that I could easily effect. As a student living with friends in a cute but comfortless cottage in Norfolk, I pinned an Indian bedspread on the walls around my bed to kid myself into believing I was sleeping in a four poster (everyone else just saw it as a bedspread pinned to the walls). When I first moved to London, carrying only a suitcase of clothes, almost the first thing I did was buy a few pieces to make my rented bedroom feel more homely – a leafy plant in a red pot and, for a reason I can’t now fathom, a poster of Marlene Dietrich. Over the past decades, I have done more or less the same in several homes but it’s only now that I’m beginning to see how I never did anything more substantial.

Making a home is a wonderful thing, which is why I loved working in interior design and then feng shui. I saw the remarkable things that can happen when people feel happy and supported by the spaces in which they live. I also saw the opposite, how discombobulated people can be when their living space doesn’t seem to work. I enjoyed helping others create homes that felt right and yet, in my own, I just ‘made do’. Not getting much lemonade out of my lemons, as it were.  There were reasons for that, like cost, especially when I was younger, but as things have changed, I think I’ve remained locked in that same mindset – cheap and cheerful, that’ll do. Even when I renovated our house in Sydney, I limited myself, settling for something that was practical but little else (although I adored having a dedicated writing room).

Now we’ve moved. I knew I would enjoy living in the country but I didn’t appreciate the depth of feeling I’d experience. I was amused to hear Anthony tell friends that since we’d moved here he’d never seen me so happy. It’s true. I feel a spring in my step every day. I start each morning by checking out whatever is going on outside, enchanted by the way the mist lifts to reveal the landscape, enthralled by an echidna or wallaby ambling past. I say hello to the microbats that sleep in a crevice above the veranda and I don’t even mind seeing the python sunning himself (or herself, how can one tell?) on a sun-warmed roof beam in the breezeway. Throughout the day I stop to marvel at something wonderful out of the window, whether it’s the huge flock of ibis circling above the creek or the comical busyness of the tiny birds working their way through every pot and every bush surrounding the house in the hunt for food.

I am always nourished by nature and Australia does a fine job of shoving it in your face, whether you like it or not. This is a particularly beautiful area, too, green and lush and with an almost British prettiness in its network of lanes and patchwork of orchards. Not surprisingly that beauty attracts a wide variety of people, most of whom relish the remarkable landscape. I feel in tune with here.

More surprising is the house, though. My usual modus operandi would be to tweak things to make it feel more homely – a lick of paint, some new cushions, a rug, the usual little touches. Here, though, the plan is to make bigger changes, and we’ve brought in an architect to help advise on what’s possible. That already feels significant. This isn’t about spending a heap of money, it’s about trying to get it right – to create a space that really works for us. It’s the energy, regardless of budget, that I have often overlooked in the past. It’s about buying a sofa you love rather than one that was in the shop, not in the fabric you liked but hey, it’s a sofa, it’ll do. It’s about deciding whether you want colourful walls even though everyone else is painting theirs white. It’s about installing decent lighting so you can see and enjoy the food you’re preparing. It’s about buying a mug you love drinking your morning coffee from rather than a generic pack of four from Ikea. In other words, everything in your home can and perhaps should work for you.

As I pondered how to reconfigure this house, a predictable inner voice piped up, asking me if I was sure about this and what if I got it wrong? Everyone has their inner critic and I’m pretty good at sifting out the useful questioning from the snarky negativity. But I had a bigger surprise when I found myself – or my critic – demanding, in a snide way, why I thought I deserved to live in a lovely home. What? Deserved? It really took the wind out of my sails for a day or so. I think my self-esteem is usually pretty robust but there, your mind has an amazing knack of surprising you when you least expect it. Thankfully – and maybe this is why we need the inner critic, to sort out the certainty – I was able to channel a L’Oreal hair advert and reply, because I’m worth it. The inner critic has shut up (for the moment) and I feel newly empowered to create a home I truly want. I am worth it. We all are.

If the home is a symbol of Self, as I believe it is, then ‘making do’ with things in your home is surely a sign that you’re making do with a lot of other things in your life, too. Moving here seems to signify a greater change and part of that is getting rid of the ‘making do’ attitude. This house, then, is more than a house. It’s a beginning. At some level, I think everyone who ever moves home understands that. We don’t simply change location, we change ourselves, however subtly.

So when life gives you lemons maybe the answer is not just to make lemonade, it’s to use a bit of magic and actually create champagne.

Has moving to a new home changed you?

Categories: Australia, feng shui, memoirTags: , , , , , , , ,

14 comments

  1. I understand completely I recent have damaged my fine china tea mug & must have another like it to enjoy my cuppa. My house has a purple wall not everyone’s choice but it makes me feel good when I look @ it.

    • It’s so sad when something you treasure gets damaged. Good for you for replacing it with something you love. Makes all the difference to the taste of the cuppa! Your purple wall sounds great, too. Don’t you love it when people see it, who can only imagine white walls, and you can almost hear them thinking: you’re not supposed to do that. Here’s to individuality!

  2. When I moved from a big house back to a flat I decided to throw/give away everything that I did not love. Now every object gives me pleasure and an astonishing sense of well being. And I am pretty ruthless on the balcony: I will try nursing a an ailing plant but if it does not respond it’s bye bye and off to the nursery I go 😁

    • I can hear your lightness and happiness! So balancing to get to that state, after years of accumulation. I recently went back to Sydney and saw all the stuff we hadn’t brought to the country and I’d almost forgotten about it – obviously plays no part in where I am now. Culling is so liberating. It also allows space for new things into your life, like plants that flourish! Love it!

  3. Absolutely fabulous piece, Colin. I can feel the joy and pleasure your new surroundings have generated in you and I wish you all the luck in creating your ideal place. Love it! Cheers Phil x

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. I understand how you felt about not deserving to live in such a place. When we found our apartment with its amazing panoramic views, I kept pinching myself and asking if I deserved it. And, as we are only renting, how we could ever live anywhere else? But life is short, and champagne must be made (or at least drunk). We also ditched a lot of our old ‘Ikea-type’ junk and started fresh. A once-in-a-lifetime thing, I think, before retirement. Would love to see some photos of your design journey!

    • It’s a literal renewal, isn’t it (even if a little bit of Ikea has been hammering at the door, asking to be let in, and I’ve relented). It is the constant interest in seeing things afresh – from new weather patterns to finding different pathways to walk in the neighbourhood. Something that is definitely worth celebrating… I will do some dedicated posts on the house itself as things progress but in the meantime it’s all about playing with ideas – certain one day, changed the next! An apero with the view is a salve…

  5. I like the idea of delaying the ‘that’ll-do’ option in favour of something that brings you joy – all very Marie-Condo! But in all seriousness, what is that feeling of ‘joy’ exactly? Is it synonymous with happiness? Is it deeper? And why does the space we inhabit have any influence on us at all when it’s our social being that is often at the core of our ‘purpose’ as found in our most successful relationships? In this time of WFH, the very idea you would conduct work calls must be concerning. With your beautiful home, Colin, I can imagine you keeping your background image for Zoom permanently ‘on’ lest you invoke envy in your colleagues, except that you could perhaps use an actual photo of such a wonderful place as your background image! Ha! The ‘real’ hiding the ‘real’ behind just a few pixels!

    • Interesting, isn’t it, the way the word ‘joy’ is bandied about. A bit of a weasel word, perhaps? And yet it is all those things you say. For me, it’s an ephemeral moment of intense pleasure, almost a rush, that can disappear in a moment – I get it when I see the kingfishers by the creek, and I get it when I use a particular cup (the cup is, of course, imbued with happy memories as well as being a satisfying design). Our social beings are in relationship with our homes but some choose not to acknowledge it – it’s only furniture, after all, only stuff. And yet we can read so much into them – the chaos or order, the bling or the cheerful happenstance, it all says something.

  6. This is so, so wonderful to hear, to read. How fabulous!
    I think it is vital in life to find one’s Soul Place and many people never achieve that. But you have! Bravo. It is going to be so exciting to see what develops in both you and the house.
    You’ve never been happier! You can’t ask for more than that.
    But, erhem – ‘cute but comfortless'(!)

    • It’s such a good term, Soul Place, and it’s true, it does feel like that to me. Every day is nourishing in some way, which is extraordinary… Now you have to unpack that last comment – was Well Cottage not cute or not comfortless or both? I just know it was terribly important, whatever it looked like! 😉

      • It really was! I don’t remember much about it except that when your parents saw it they were horrified 😂. That and Nathaniel, icy mornings, parties with a lot of speed and cross dressing and 🍗 🥜 dps. Memories … memories. And us, of course 💕

      • Ah, sweet memories of Nathaniel, I’d almost forgotten! 🛵

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