Friday, 12 September 2008

Virginia Woolf brought me breakfast in bed today

In 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own (1929), with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Let's take a room of one's own in the first instance. I've tried having a room of my own for writing purposes and strangely, I have settled for the busiest room in the house, the sitting room. I can sit on the sofa with my feet up on the coffee table to avoid the spider underneath the chest and look out to the garden through the patio doors. I've got somewhere to rest my coffee cup, the television's there if I want to put it on and I've got the dog for company. It's not idyllic when the children are around but aside from school holidays, I'm usually busy running about with them anyway. So it's not about rooms, it's about spaces in which you feel comfortable.

And money? I've just been trying to find out who first said that you can never be too rich or too thin but I've decided to give up on that one. I think to be comfortably well-off and comfortable with your size is the best you can strive for; I'm a bit doubtful of being either but it's always good to have a goal in mind even if its achievement is constantly deferred. I digress.

I've been rather preoccupied with thinking about living spaces because we're moving and in this dreary market, waiting for an offer on our house, at least we do have time to think about what we want. Something smaller, for a start. Something older, definitely. Our house is very nice but it is a mish-mash of different styles and this disturbs me for some reason. There are certain practical considerations; we need four bedrooms, one of which must be large enough for the older boys to share when they're both at home. There are other matters to consider but I won't bore you with those right now. Because I've had time to ponder, I've come to the conclusion that my preference is for houses that are authentic to their period. I don't want the latest style in kitchen or bathroom; there is something really appealing to me about original fixtures and details. But, of course, the next question is, just how far do you take it?

We've looked at one or two houses built in the 1920's - 1930's. We're not going to dress in clothes of the 1920's or dance the Charleston instead of watching TV in the evenings. By its very unprogressive nature, it would be self-defeating to embrace modernist values so it's not about that either. It's not about identifying with a particular era, or a process of re-enacting. And yet I know that there is something wrong in not recognising that each generation will leave their contribution to the house. This is only tolerable to me when it's been done a long time ago. For instance, it's fascinating if the original house was built in the 1500s with additions made in the 1700s. However, a house built in Victorian times with a 1970s double glazing thrown in is less desirable. If it's recent, it has to be sympathetic (Estate Agents' speak) but if it's history then it's OK.

A friend of mine has a house built at exactly the same time as ours, 1959. The main difference, between them in terms of style is that hers has original fixtures and not only that, they're in a wonderful condition. I think that as a nation of DIY-ers we've probably ruined most of our houses by now. I don't disagree with change when it's real progression such as replacement windows and heating or redecoration as an expression of creativity. Anything else and you can save yourself a lot of money because sooner or later it will come back into fashion. Your newly purchased whatever-style kitchen/bathroom won't have the enduring spirit of the original.

And talking of enduring spirits, I didn't really have Virginia Woolf bring me breakfast in bed today - I think she may be a bit too full-on first thing in the morning - but it was Sarah's prompt and it set me off thinking about why I want a period house. See how bad my obsession's got?

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