Along with the excitement of impending building work comes a degree of apprehension, and a heightened awareness of all that we have – and all we have to lose in the event of it going wrong. There’s no real need to worry – we have a good architect and great builders on the case, and the scheme is fantastic – but I hate all the dust and upheaval of building sites and the fact that things have to get an awful lot worse in terms of mess and general chaos before they begin to improve.
What I’m looking forward to, of course, is the home-making process once the hard graft is over. Ever since we bought the property, we have always been anticipating work in the offing, so have to all intents and purposes been camping here – only getting rid of things we simply couldn’t live with (a heavy, smelly brown carpet, for instance) and furnishing with skip finds and hand-me-downs from friends. What I’m realising, however, as I start to pack up in preparation for the builders moving in, is that the place has acquired a make-shift, make-do kind of beauty of its own. The tartan rugs and crochet throws that cover scruffy beds and chairs; the patchwork quilts and Balinese batiks hung at windows; the woven plastic mats on the floors and my daughter’s little pallet bed – somehow all conspire, in the wonderful seaside light, to create a charm we’d have been unable to conjure up at will.
(Photo above by Michael Franke)
The only things we’ve spent money on so far have been a couple of custom-made coir mats to lay over the floorboards in some rooms – and the growing collections of prints and paintings (mainly of our beloved beach) that I’ve bought from local artists. The rest of the décor has grown out of our lives in this place – flowers from the garden, pebbles from the beach (strung 13 at a time on rope for good luck), rag rugs bought for a song at a Portuguese market, children’s paintings and cards and little watercolours sent or left by visitors. I intend to hang on to some of this simple spontaneity – which is just as well, as we won’t have a lot of money for kitting out the new interior.
One thing that has worked particularly well has been the old patchwork quilts hung at windows. Not only does the quilting keep out the worst winds; they look pretty too, particularly when the low morning light shines straight through them, illuminating the colours like stained glass. The one in my daughter’s room is a jaunty bright primary-coloured design that my mother (who made it) was throwing out; hence she didn’t bat an eyelid at me cutting it in half to make decent-sized curtains. The one in our bedroom is a vintage French find, using large asymmetrical pieces (not unlike the offbeat geometry of the famous quilts of the Gee’s Bend community in America) around a pair of central panels bearing beautiful flowers.
The colour scheme of this room – which took its lead from the patchwork – also echoes the warm pinks and blues at the beach when the sun is going down.
I sometimes think I could decorate the entire place using nothing but combinations found in the locality – the bluish grey, ochre and white of pebbles on the beach, the glaucous grey-green and purple of sea-kale pushing up through the stones; the pink and white with a touch of green of apple blossom (for my daughter’s room); the endless shifting blues and greys and greens of the sea – but I digress.
Next weekend will be our last weekend in the railway carriages before the transformation to turn them into our full-time eco-home finally starts. It is also Easter. I leave you with this picture of the annual Easter tree my daughter and I have just put up – some of the eggs are relatively new, brought back from travels abroad, some were hand-painted by me as a child on fragile hand-blown shells. We add a few more each year. A happy and peaceful Easter to anyone who finds this.