What shall I tell you about today???? Perhaps you would like to do the Charleston?
Everyone into the car! I’m thinking our Volvo is a true-life time machine, it drives us right into history every day! In the last couple of days, we went to Sissinghurst to see the garden of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson; we’ve been to Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s warm and wonderful home near Burwash, down the same narrow roads he drove back then — it’s so hard to choose what to show you today. But yesterday was a day of color and magic so I choose yesterday!
We are in very good hands, Joe and our darling English friend Siobhan are plotting our course through the green country hedgerows lined in Queen Anne’s Lace (the thing they call Cow Parsley), overhung with fragrant Hawthorn and ancient horse chestnut trees in bloom. Just like going through the wardrobe, when we emerge on the other side, we will be somewhere we’ve never been before, a house Siobhan told us about, an amazing house with artistic history and personality called Charleston, outside of Lewes in East Sussex. Ready? Got your seat belts on? OK, here we go!
In 1916, the author, Virginia Woolf (pictured right), found a large old farmhouse in the country which was available for lease. Virginia thought it would be perfect for her beloved artist sister Vanessa Bell and her family. (Already, so interesting!). Vanessa loved it, took it, and this house became the center of a literary and artist group of rather Bohemian friends (which is very brave in 1916 for women who are still in long skirts) called the Bloomsbury Group. The house is still there, still furnished as it was when they left it, and open to the public. And it was at least 100% more exciting and interesting than I ever imagined. I have spent hours on the internet researching the Bloomsbury group this morning . . . there’s so much more if you want it!
Small groups such as ours are able to walk through the house in one-hour tours led by a knowledgeable guide, passionate about sharing her wealth of knowledge on the subject and willing to answer all our questions. The only disappointment was that photography of the interior was not allowed. I found these two images of the inside of the house above on the internet, to give you at least a bit of an idea of what it’s about. What Vanessa (in the photo below, left) and her artist-partner and father of some of her children, Duncan Grant did (to try and put it in a nutshell), is to decoratively, charmingly paint or stencil every single corner of this house. Around the fireplaces, all the bookcases, the walls of course, the chairs and tables; they painted beautiful paintings which hang in every room; they designed jaunty colorful fabrics to drape the windows and beds, to cover the chairs, and needlepoint pillows in what I would describe as colorful, whimsical, sophisticated, elegance, in a style now called “Arts and Crafts.” I didn’t find a photo of the dining room, but the large round table in the middle of the room seats twelve comfortably, and was gorgeously hand-painted by Vanessa. Around the table, in a style reminiscent of the Algonquin round table, gathered what turned out to be some of the intellectual and artistic elite of the day, E.M. Forster (who wrote A Room with a View and Howard’s End among other things) was there, Virginia Woolf and her literary friends, several well known artists of the time, a famous economist, and all their children. At the time, early in the 20th century, they were like any group of young people living together in a group home (like Friends, only smarter, and living quite a bit further outside the box than even Phoebe and Joey); they had lots of energy, believed in their dreams; but there was never a lot of money around. Which didn’t stop these people from making something from nothing every day. Home and domesticity are the main themes represented in their paintings . . . I thought you’d like to see a few of them.
This one is by Duncan Grant, Vanessa’s partner, called A Room with a View.
Vanessa painted this gorgeous still life.
Duncan Grant painted Spring! I think he might have the happy gene.
Vanessa painted fruit!
They both did portraits, and who needs wallpaper, let’s just paint the walls! They painted old pieces of furniture they picked up, and mixed and matched periods any old which way they wanted, and it all looks wonderful.
This is Vanessa’s art studio, right next to her bedroom. She painted the fireplace! They painted lampshades and made China and pottery too. It is said that, at that time, not many people lived life just the way they wanted, but these people did. Out back, to our delight, we found their lushly planted walled garden; we were allowed to wander through it to our heart’s content.
And you can see, they had as much fun “painting” the garden with colorful flowers as they did the rest of the house. I love these people! Would like to see a picture of the actual house?
Here it is, not crazy painted on the outside as you might expect, but tall and calm with milk blue trim, surrounded by birdsong on the English coast waiting for you to come visit! More wonderful proof of “If you can dream it, you can make it so!”
We can only imagine what this garden will look like later this summer, when the roses that grow on all the walls, over the windows and doors, are in bloom!
But something tells me that it will be a very colorful! Wish I would be here to see it. Would love to see it in the snow too. There are benches to sit on to listen to the bees in this small garden; there are paths, hedges, and arches. There was a baby bird on the wall being fed by a mommy. You may say to yourself, hearing the blackbird singing in the apple tree, let’s never leave here! Right? But let’s not go yet — wouldn’t a cup of tea and a little something to munch on go good right now???
Because, attached to this house is the most wonderful tea room. I know I’m going to love it because on the counter there’s a jug of flowers from the garden, a jug of fresh cream from the local dairy. Where shall we sit? By the window?
I love the Cath Kidston oilcloths covering the powder blue tables!
And there’s room for all of us in this English prettiness!
Anyone rather sit outside in the garden? You can do that too . . .
Look girlfriends! All the cups are Emma!! Just like the ones we have!! Oooo, I think I like it here! (Don’t forget, we’re going to the Emma Factory next month! So excited!)
Anything besides tea? This Rose Lemonade is my newest passion. Pink, sparkling, and delicious, with just a touch of rose, yum!!!! And this “Shandy” everyone is talking about is really good, not bad at all, I’m not a beer person, but this is delicious too.
I didn’t take photos of the food because we were just too busy eating and I forgot, because I had the grilled brie sandwich with tomato and pesto; I was so busy going “mmmm,” licking dripping brie from the crust, by the time I remembered I had a camera, my sandwich was gone! On the way out, we noticed, as behooves a place where art reigns number one, the colored pencils and paper available on a table by the door . . . and this darling work of art left behind by someone we never saw by the name of Eleanor Farwell . . . she titled it “Sheep on the Loose.”
After a visit to the gift store at Charleston (oh yes, we brake for gift stores), we knew we weren’t done . . . over hill and dale we drove to the darling town of Alfriston . . . which is a story for another day! So far, I’ll just tell you, not to keep you guessing, we haven’t bought the pink house, but the idea did cross our minds! I know it crossed yours too! I hope you had a good time today . . . If you like, here are more views of Charleston…. I hope you put this on your list of places not to miss in this lifetime. Try for June, when the roses are in bloom! Your homework for today; to give a corner of your house the Charleston Arts and Crafts look in a really easy way, find the equivalent of some bright English meadow flowers, stuff them into a jug (that’s English for “pitcher”) or jam jar. Put it on top of a stack of old books. And, have a wonderful day!!!! ♥ xoxo