Our building project was due to finish in mid July. It’s now late November and the work continues, over time and over budget. Although the end is in sight, the job may or may not be completed before Christmas. Early excitement and expectation has long since faded into disillusionment and irritation, but by next weekend we should have two newly carpeted bedrooms and a smart shower room (albeit without running water or heating). Our new spaces may have to remain unfurnished for now, but the construction work will be finished; and not a moment too soon. The house is cold, draughty and dusty, which does not make for comfortable living or a very Merry Christmas.
The final frontier is the ‘breakthrough’ between the old dining room and new library, which will be opened up in the next few weeks. This will doubtless create vast amounts of dust. Once that’s been swept-up the house will be habitable again. I have visions of enjoying a large glass of Madeira, reclining before a roaring fire, the Christmas tree twinkling in one corner of the room and carols playing on the stereo. I am holding this image in my mind’s eye, in the vain hope it might actually come to pass.
Visitors to the garden over the summer expressed a healthy interest in how the library would take shape. Until now I have been loath to share any photographs lest you think the whole project doomed, but now it is recognisable as a library, I’m content to post a preview. In fairness the carpenters have been working like demons, building shelves, cupboards and sections of panelling in their workshop before installing them on site. They have followed my design drawings to the letter, only making changes where they have spotted a better solution. Every inch of the walls and ceiling will be painted, so we settled on MDF and pine rather than using more exotic, expensive, environmentally sensitive timbers. The panelling is false, but very nicely done, and certainly good enough for such a humble home.
With the decoration I aim to create a contemporary, gentlemen’s club feel, emphasised by moorland shades and moody lighting. Given the shelves will be dominated by books celebrating plants, flowers and gardening, I am also endeavouring to give the decorative scheme a botanical slant. We have chosen large ceiling roses with dramatic sunflowers at the centre, a design popular in the Victorian and Edwardian era. Hanging from these, smoked-glass chandeliers will one day cast a sophisticated light.
In time there will be terrariums, botanical prints, reading tables and a stately grandfather clock. The latter will be essential in creating an atmosphere in which I can genuinely relax: I find nothing more soothing and reassuring than the ticking of a venerable timepiece.
All the woodwork will be painted the same smoky, lavender-grey; a shade named ‘Erica’ by Paint & Paper Library. This unusual colour was inspired by a painting Him Indoors and I bought together eighteen months ago to celebrate the purchase of our new home, the work of Cornish landscape painter John Piper. We have another of his works, which blazes with the fiery colours of autumn, but this piece speaks of twilight in late summer, a composition of purples, mauves, terracottas and creamy whites. I could look at it for hours, if it were not under a dust sheet. In time there will be sofas and chairs upholstered in heather and bracken-coloured tweeds, which I hope will further emphasise John Piper’s wonderful palette.
Friends and family keep telling me that the project will be worth it in the end, and of course I firmly believe that. However, I am not someone who relishes the prospect and process of ‘doing up’ a house. I want it all done and dusted so that I can enjoy it. Having everything as one wants it is great, but this takes time, energy and money, none of which I have in abundance. Then again, I guess one only builds a library once, so one may as well do it properly. This is a once in a lifetime job.