Follow new PHS columnist, Virginia Heath through the keyhole as she invites us into her gorgeous home...
The Heath household alternates between an oasis of calm and a vortex of complete chaos. Most of the time it is quiet as Mr H is at work, which often takes him abroad, and the kids are out. I say kids, when in truth they’re both technically adults. My twenty-year-old daughter is at university a hundred miles away and my newly eighteen-year-old son is either in college or doing whatever it is eighteen-year-old boys do. Therefore, most days it is just me and Trevor, my adorable whirlwind of a Labrador Retriever puppy.
We have a strict routine. It’s Trevor’s. He needs to take care of business early, so I’m often found walking him as dawn breaks, then I tidy the house and settle into my office to work. I love my little office. It’s in the back of the house overlooking the garden, so it’s quiet. When I write, I like silence, so apart from Trevor’s snoring, I can listen to the voices in my head clearly. I also like order, so my writing cave and desk is always kept clear. It’s a cosy room filled with things that make me smile. Lots of books, accumulated tourist tat from my travels, photos and Disney merchandise. I like the cheerful primary colours. Especially red. Something which will soon become glaring apparent as I show you around the rest of my house.
The only downside of my office is it is across the hall from my children’s bedrooms. In fairness, my daughter’s homage to the colour pink is always neat. My teenage son’s is not. Think Shrek’s swamp and you won’t go far wrong. Where I like order, my son apparently prefers chaos. I’ve given up trying to tidy it. Some days I need a miner’s lamp, crampons and a machete just to get in there. However, for the sake of this article, I guilted him into tidying it, so you can peak inside. My bedroom is plain and ordered, with jaunty dashes of red, of course.
All around the house lurk Guineapigs. Those Brits reading this, old enough to remember Rupert the Bear will remember he had a little friend called Gregory the Guineapig. My husband is also called Gregory, but at 6’10” is far from small. His sister started calling him Guineapig when he was little and it’s stuck. Now, I found it amusing to pepper the house with reminders.
Downstairs, as you would expect the living room gets the most use and was specifically designed with my tall family in mind. The sofas and chairs were custom-built, and after seeing a wonderful display of mismatched fabrics in a fancy furniture store, I decided to give that a go and adore the finished look. However, because they were built for six-footers and I’m only 5’6”, my feet don’t touch the floor and just dangle like a toddler’s over the edge. On the plus side, I have no difficulty getting the ceilings painted and there’s always someone around who can reach things off high shelves. When my back is turned, Trevor likes to do his own bit of interior design in here, and I now seem to spend my entire life picking up the tiny pieces of paper he has shredded all over the carpet, while he sleeps on his back. Snoring.
The downstairs loo is fun. We call it the Marmite toilet, as like the infamous gooey brown spread, people either love it or hate it. It really represents me bizarrely, as I spent years working for the newspapers before I became a history teacher, so the walls are papered with historic newspapers. Most walls don’t talk, but mine do! There’s always something to read, which is an added bonus, and you can learn a lot.
The historian in me loves to collect things and my husband and I can often be found at antiques fairs. There is no logic to what we purchase. I’m not organised enough to collect stuff from a specific era, instead we choose things which we find interesting or quirky. This little cross-section gives you an idea how eclectic my taste is.
There’s Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, a Roman amphora, a mammoth’s tooth and a Clarice Cliff vase (they are not displayed like this though! I’m not that random). Mr H likes to collect old British banknotes. The one in the picture is a forgery from World War Two. Hitler tried to destabilize the British economy by flooding the market with fake ten pound notes, created by a highly talented team of Jewish prisoners. It was called Operation Bernhard. At the end of the war as the allies were closing in, the Nazis decided to move the forgers to another concentration camp and kill them all together. When the truck they had put them in broke down, the SS guards had to march the forgers instead, but gave up and ran away as the allies got closer, which meant the forgers all survived to tell their tale to the world.
Aside from collecting things, I love to cook. When we bought this house fourteen years ago it was less than two years old, and we inherited a kitchen too new to get rid of but not what I wanted. This year, after the death of the oven, I managed to convince Mr H we needed a new one. Now it’s all shiny and modern and filled with swanky new appliances. White, because the room is north-facing and can sometimes be dark, but peppered with bright primary colours to liven it up, especially red, which in case you haven’t guessed yet is my favourite colour. I think years of teaching and trying to make my classroom appealing to the young, have made me gravitate towards bright colours and quirky objects.
The love of colour continues into my beloved garden. Why people try to tame nature by planting flower beds of one colour in neat shapes is beyond me. My garden is a riot of colour and my flower beds are bursting with plants. It’s like sitting inside a jungle- but in a good way. The local wildlife also adores it. In summer it’s filled with bees, butterflies and dragonflies. Insects, I am prone to point out rather smugly, which never visit any of my neighbours’ boring patches. My little garden is a great place to write or to chill out in.
Because I write for a living, I spend a great deal of time at home, which I like. After years of having proper jobs, its lovely to have a 30 second commute up the stairs and be able to work in capacious yoga pants wearing no make-up. But the best times are when everyone is home. Then the house is noisy, deteriorates into messiness very quickly and is filled with laughter. The Heath household is a happy one and I’m forever grateful for that. That and the colour red. I hope you enjoyed your little tour.
Virginia's latest book, A Warriner to Protect Her, is out this month. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.