In the age of Instagram, have we all become too obsessed with our houses looking flawless? Interior designer Clare Nash says it’s time to remember what really makes a house a home.
CLARE NASH’S COTSWOLDS HOME. IMAGES: RACHEL WHITING
I have been plying my trade as an interior designer for some decades now. It’s good. It combines many of my favourite things: design, architecture, telling people what to do. All the good stuff. But there are tiny creeping doubts. There always have been. What if there is nothing much wrong with most houses in the first place? What if, what if, we are now obsessed, to the point of madness, with how our homes look and how they measure up, more than how they feel? And what if that has a cost?
I am an inveterate doer-upper of sad houses. I have never bought a house with a kitchen. That sounds unlikely, but it is true. I have bought houses which have never been modernised, or have been burnt, or were owned by lovely kitchen-eschewing hippies. And this has been important to me because I just couldn’t rip out a perfectly functioning kitchen. And yet I would have to, were I to buy a house with one. So, a solid existing kitchen, a good bathroom, in fact even a faintly decently turned out house is a deal breaker for me. I couldn’t live with it, and couldn’t live with myself for such rampant waste.
A decently turned out house is a deal breaker for me. I couldn’t live with it, and couldn’t live with myself for such rampant waste
But it isn’t a deal breaker for a lot of people, many of whom buy a perfectly lovely house and then rip it to shreds. And yes, this is the very essence of how I make my actual living but I can still barely condone it. There is nothing wrong with that kitchen, guys! Nothing that a paint job, new knobs, removal of the high-level cupboards, lots of lovely large baskets and vintage wooden chopping boards can’t solve. Maybe even the odd plant – or are we over plants now? I confuse myself, I tell you.
CLARE’S LIVING ROOM IS FILLED WITH WELL-LOVED PIECES. IMAGE: RACHEL WHITING
The point is that perfection is desired, at all cost. And, to be serious momentarily, I fear the cost is huge in human and planetary terms. What drives all this is our collective and increasing spoiltness. I own two houses – one in London, one in the country. I say ‘own’… multifarious of our least reputable financial institutions own them, but they kindly let me pay them a vast amount for which I get to kip in said houses and go to car boot sales at the weekend for junk to fill ‘em with.
The very fact of this makes me spoilt. But I try to walk my talk, as people used to say in 1993. I fitted a simple kitchen in the country gaff – literally four base units from Ikea with a sink and a marble top. Shelves above. That’s it.
The marble company, however, made a mistake and cut a hole for a single legged central tap rather than two, as briefed. They offered to cut a whole new top. I couldn’t countenance that so, instead, they cut a small circle of marble and filled in the erroneous hole. Yes, you can see it if you look closely, but you would have to be very spoilt to mind.
I even like it – it reminds me, as I wash up, that being a little breezy about these things has a karmically good effect. I remember the intense relief in the voice of the man I told I would not be requiring a whole new worktop. A man who would have had to pay for my new worktop himself. Just imagine.
I have seen an eight-metre long marble worktop binned and replaced because the veins didn’t quite meet at the join
There is always a price to pay. I have seen small kitchen companies go out of business this way. I have seen an eight-metre long marble worktop binned and replaced because the veins didn’t quite meet at the join. I have seen cabinet makers go under for a tiny error, which resulted in the remaking of a whole table.
The Earth certainly suffers as yet more marble is wasted to meet the needs of another overindulged Western woman (me). And all because I’m *cross* that a slight mistake was made and insist on this tiny (in the scheme of things) mistake being rectified, irrespective of the consequences.
I don’t mean we should accept shoddy. What I mean is that if using small artisan companies or anything other than the vast ones, there are consequences to our ‘righteous’ anger. Are we prepared to screw someone’s life up for the sake of our kitchen cupboards? Won’t we get used to the ‘mistake’ in hours? Isn’t that easier to live with? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
CLARE MIXES INHERITED AND VINTAGE PIECES TO CREATE HOMES FULL OF CHARACTER. IMAGES: RACHEL WHITING
All the houses I have ever loved have been flawed. There have been mistakes made, faults never rectified, and there are things which needed replacing or modernising. There has been imperfect furniture – and I bet there is in your home too. Would you have chosen granny’s sideboard or bedside table in a perfect world? But you have it and you love it and it reminds you of her, or her before she started to mutter alarmingly under her breath. It means something more to you than that endlessly Instagrammed perfect coffee table ever could.
I spend my money on an architect to design a beautiful extension but the rest is very simple. I fall for many an interiors cliché. Most of us do. But I have tried to furnish my homes with stuff which means something to me, whether I have found it or inherited it. I have owned most of it for 20 years or more. I occasionally buy a lovely mid-century chair.
I can’t afford built-in wardrobes so I go to Shepherds Bush Market and buy £2 per metre chiffon for curtains to conceal my rail of clothes. Old floorboards can be sanded back and a bit of white paint in the oil knocks the orange back. You don’t need a new floor.
I want good bones for my house and, dare I say it, for love to permeate it. None of it is perfect, yet it is loved. And I’m never sure whether the house which has caused pain to others or has reached a state of impossible perfection, ever can be.
Clare Nash is an interior designer for commercial and residential projects
|Photography: Rachel Whiting. Production and Styling: Ben Kendrick. All images are from Country Living Modern Rustic issue 12, out now.