Personal space: Interiors that are all about you
PUBLISHED: 13:43 03 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:29 04 February 2020
Using your interior design choices to reflect your personality or life experience can create an amazing - and unique - space, as Richard Burton discovered.
Back in the day, I arrived at a somewhat nondescript terrace in a hilltop Leicestershire village known for the fact that William the Conquerer once gifted it to one of his mates sometime after 1066.
I can't remember why I was there to be honest. It was 10,000 stories ago in the days when reporters knocked on a lot of doors. But behind this one lay a surprise. As I sat there sipping Typhoo with the owner, a man came downstairs and she introduced him as her musician husband.
When I asked what he played, he drew back the bifolds to reveal an organ big enough to rock Glasto - without amps. Not one of those little Yamaha things kids practice on upstairs. This one was 5ft wide, almost as tall and rammed with pipes, stops and more woofers and tweeters than you'd find on a children's farm.
Two minutes later, a vase visibly shifted along the sideboard as he upped the tempo on A Whiter Shade of Pale. "A belter, this," he shouted. "It get lots of requests come Sat'dy. Mind, I'm more of a Carpenters man meself."
Requests? I bet you do, I thought. Via environmental services. And not always for encores.
Anyway, this wasn't the organ he played at The Club. In the absence of roadies and lifting gear, it was a permanent fixture: one on which he displayed his family pictures, ate his tea and read the paper in his pyjamas. All a million miles away from the fabulous grand piano I found in Rod Argent's living room in St Albans, which added pop star style to an otherwise comfy suburban home.
Roll on the years and, in a wind-blown cottage near Bradford, a mechanic in a Black Sabbath T-shirt showed me the coffin he slept in (oh, yeah, don't disturb him on the solstice) and, in a Nottinghamshire village, the owner of a modest semi was doing his best to recreate the Cavern Club in his front room.
And how about a chimney stack hollowed-out to fit a vertical aquarium with magnified glass that made the fish look like they were wearing Chucky masks. That was in Harrow. Not exactly in the same league as the three in tech entrepreneur Michael Barnick 's house in California, none of which exactly harmed his £26 million sale.
At the other end of the scale, we have the novelist who told me how he'd hired locals to drag driftwood off a Portuguese beach and worked his way through all sorts of officialdom to have it imported to the Cotswolds where local craftsmen fashioned a forest of legs beneath a slab of reclaimed oak for him to write on.
Then there was the explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison. I once met him at his Bodmin Moor farm surrounded by red deer and wild boar and found it littered with the spoils of everything from his adventures among South American Indian tribes to his overland Jeep treks to what was then called Ceylon.
I loved it that people were personalising their homes, even though it's a concept open to wide interpretation. Fishtanks and coffins may well make your estate agent want a word about "being realistic" but the cachet of selling a home living its history has sealed bids written all over it.
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Personalisation can be about nothing more than the deft touches that lift what could otherwise be a fairly neutral, even if stylish, canvas. Many conversations I've had of late with designers, particularly some of Europe's younger - what their people call 'emerging' - contingent, have emphasised the value of personalised space.
And for those short on Inca artefacts and religious tapestries, there's still plenty of scope, something furniture manufacturers are only too aware of. More and more I'm seeing phrases such as "talking point" and "conversation piece" creeping into PR and marketing materials as they look to add spark to a room.
And instagrammers are doing their bit too, as I've written many times. Just look at the images mother-of-four Katie Woods is posting of her Leeds home via @comedowntothewoods to see that. Mixing and matching styles, colours, textures and loads of statement pieces have helped her gain 185,000 followers.
Or South Woodford businesswoman Sofie Hepworth who posts under @threeboysandapinkbath or even Brighton's Kelly Day who has redefined the use of pastels to create a (her words) authentic home on her @thisismyhomestyle account.
For those of us a little less adventurous, Kiran Singh, founder of My Unique Home, brilliantly summarises a commonly-held expert view that personalisation is often best achieved via accessories, be they books, paintings, or something as simple as a coffee table or a vase.
"Personal touches are critical, but thankfully they occur naturally, whether you intend to or not. Simply by living in a space and adding to it will help you inject some of your own personality into the design. The more purposeful and intentional your efforts, however, the better the overall effect will be," she says.
And the TV psychologist Linda Papadopoulos describes it this way: "Our homes are an amalgam of our choices and behaviours that accumulate over time. The fact that you have a special area for muddy wellies may attest to your family being an active one, and that old crochet blanket that covers the chair in your bedroom may be there because it reminds you of summers you used to spend at your grandma's home.
"In effect, our homes allow us to showcase our personalities. And what we showcase differs not only because of our personalities, but also because of the life stage we're in.
"If you think of a teen's room for example, their space is often very much a declaration of identity, from the posters and music collections on display to the fact that there are clothes all over the place. The message is clear: "This is my space, this is who I am and I have (or at least am trying to develop) a healthy sense of entitlement to be me."
Often, when we talk about home décor these days, we do so with a mind to a wider appeal with a mind to eventual resale and I wonder if that can hinder the sense of adventure. One of the reasons you can now buy wallpaper that comes off as quickly as it goes on.
Some homes are all about the owners, and age and mature as they do, often over a generation. You just have to stroll among the dozens of life-size figures in the garden of the sculptor John Mills' medieval manor at Hinxworth to know that.
I've no idea whether the organ guy and his wife are still in their hilltop terrace but most agents I know would probably have urged him to have the roadies stick it in the garage on viewing days.
Mind you, the buyers would have been guaranteed a good welcome from the neighbours.