The writer, broadcaster and award-winning founder of celebrated Venetian restaurants POLPO is famed for his love of Venice. Here, Russell Norman talks to The Home Page about life at the ancient farmhouse in Kent where he lives with his wife, two daughters and their two pet dogs
RUSSELL NORMAN WITH MONKEY, ONE OF HIS BELOVED PET DOGS, AT HIS LAST HOME IN BLACKHEATH
Where do you live and why?
Pluckley in Kent. It’s quiet and rural, and officially the most haunted village in Britain. We live in an old timber-framed farmhouse, parts of which date back to 1480. I haven’t seen a ghost yet, unfortunately, but the paintings on the walls do sometimes move. We came here to get away from London and also to be closer to my daughters’ school.
What’s the first thing you did to your home when you moved in?
The first thing I did was light a fire and order a massive take away meal from a Chinese restaurant in a neighbouring village. That was quite a feast! Then we spent about three months gently and sympathetically refurbishing the house, upgrading the water pressure and plumbing so we could have strong, hot showers, and laying lots of Emery et Cie tiles. We are not really carpet people. I quite like walking barefoot on freezing cold floors in the morning.
Describe your front door…
It’s very heavy and dark – probably English oak and possibly Tudor. There’s a big iron knocker and it takes about half a day to unlock it. We never use it. Like most rural houses, we always use the back, which is a much more friendly stable door.
RUSSELL NORMAN’S BEAMED KITCHEN IN HIS KENT FARMHOUSE, PARTS OF WHICH DATE BACK TO 1480. IMAGE: RUSSELL NORMAN
If the objects in your home could talk, which one would have the best story to tell?
The fireplace is the oldest part of the house, 540 years old in fact, and I often wonder what celebrations, tragedies, triumphs, disasters, conversations and scenes it must have witnessed over the years.
What are some of the most memorable things which have happened in your home?
We have only lived here for 18 months so we are still waiting for the memories to happen. Although in February last year I had to leave the house empty for a week while I went on a short book tour to Amsterdam. It just so happened to be the same week as the “Beast from the East” and the bitterly cold snap that came with it. The boiler failed while I was away and all the water in the entire house froze. When the thaw came, all the pipes burst and the floods in the house were quite spectacular. That took a while to clean up and fix.
What was your childhood home like?
I grew up in a post-war semi in suburban west London. Pebble dash, woodchip, artex, you name it. I think we may even have had an avocado bathroom suite.
AS AN AWARD-WINNING RESTAURATEUR AND KEEN COOK, RUSSELL’S KITCHEN IS THE ROOM WHICH MAKES HIM HAPPIEST. IMAGE: RUSSELL NORMAN
What’s on your bedside table?
Only books. Many, many books. Even if I’m not reading them, it’s important I have them there for security; I find them comforting. At the moment these are: The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick, Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, In My Mind’s Eye by Jan Morris, the screenplays for The Lives of Others and The Manchurian Candidate as well as couple of books on screenwriting, Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys and one about depression.
What’s your domestic guilty secret or pet hate?
Guilty secret: I have about 100 replacement light bulbs.
Pet hate: Running out of Yorkshire Tea
What’s at the bottom of your garden?
The house came with a few acres, so we find ourselves with paddocks and no livestock (yet!) I sowed lots of grass seed in the clay at the bottom of the large paddock recently and we had to build a scarecrow to keep the birds off. As I look out of my kitchen window, that’s what I see in the distance. It always scares the shit out of me.
ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS RUSSELL DID WHEN HE MOVED IN WAS LAY LOTS OF EMERY ET CIE TILES. IMAGE: RUSSELL NORMAN
Which room in your home makes you happiest?
The kitchen. It’s the heart and soul of the house. And I love the larder because that’s where all the food is. In the winter, I get a great deal of spiritual comfort and happiness from sitting in front of the fire, too.
What makes your house a home?
I hope my family can forgive me for saying this, but our dogs, Monkey and Tegwyn, make our house a home. I can’t imagine it without them.
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