When we first bought this house, many years ago now, there was a wonderful old building in the garden. I was instantly drawn to the old stone, the terracotta roof tiles partially covered in moss, the magic of the hollyhocks growing wild outside the door and the wisteria over an old pergola. We named it instantly the summer kitchen. Simply because it became just that, our makeshift cooking space for months on end whilst we renovated the house. But behind the pretty exterior it was a mess, if it hadn’t been for the fire and the ability to cook on it I doubt we would have gone near the place. Refurbishment of this particular space was was right at the bottom of our list of priorities.
Over the years we have slowly done little bits here and there to make it what it is today. In the autumn, spring and summer it is the potting shed. In the summer, when there are no tender plants requiring its thick walls as shelter from cold weather and when all my gardening is done outdoors, it reverts to the summer kitchen. We added a covered terrace a few years ago which means we can keep the doors permanently open creating a light filled space that is protected from the elements. This is where the lemon trees grow, in the same place year round, in full sun but with a clear roof shielding them from our occasional rare frosts in the winter.
Originally this building was the wash house, a place where the laundry was done. These were often communal and most likely it was used by the surrounding cottages. It dates from around 1780, the floor tiles are still the originals, worn smooth by thousands of feet over the centuries.
The well is right outside the door. This is the original wheel, in the days before electricity, this was used to draw water up from the well and out of the big old lead tap.
With the invention of electricity came the pressurised holding tank, new pipework was added in the early 1900’s allowing the water to flow into this by means of an electric pump. The old tap became obsolete although it still remains in place. One hundred years later and we are still using the same holding tank and the same system, although we have had the electrics completely rewired! The well and the pump which looks like it dates from the dark ages, are highly efficient. Our entire garden is watered by this method.
We kept the original electric switch, no longer used, but still a vital part of the history.
The other important part of the room was the open fire. This is where water was heated and although it was rebuilt in 1970, it still sits in the same place. Nowadays, it has other uses, notably keeping me warm in the winter! It is precisely why I love this room so much. The fire chucks out so much heat I can work away with seedlings, sharpening tools, doing all those necessary winter jobs. It can be lashing down with rain outside, but the doors remain open, the interior sheltered from the weather by the covered terrace.
The children will come and join me, begging to toast marshmallows. Roddy will wander in with a cup of tea or a glass of wine if its late in the evening. I’ll put my glass on the bricks by the fire, gently warming a full bodied Bordeaux. A couple of months ago I planted an old ironstone tureen with lots of tiny narcissi bulbs, they’re now in full flower and I’ve left them on the table, it is after all very much a room to me, and a room needs flowers!!
And it is totally self sufficient heating in the most organic way possible. I have several old large cardboard boxes which are filled with sticks and branches from the garden. Every time the wind blows and the garden is littered with twigs, I’ll break them up and place them in the boxes. One box contains this years (not to be used), one box has last years (ready for next year) and the nearly empty box is the one from two years ago and these we are currently burning. So it is very dry and burns clean and efficiently. There are also two years worth of vine cuttings from the annual December pruning, stacked and drying ready for summer barbecues.
The old roof timbers make a picture on their own but just to draw attention to them I had to ask Roddy to hang a chandelier for me. I found one at a brocante a few years ago and it’s a slightly decadent, rather fun addition!
With the help of a friend who is staying with us we have recently repainted all of the exterior woodwork. A darker shade of grey that works well. A couple of weeks ago we had glorious spring like weather, we painted and chatted one Sunday without the need of a coat, and certainly no need for the fire. We ate a sandwich for lunch on the terrace and then continued our painting. A good days work! Now an old child’s crib, another brocante find from two summers ago sits by the door. At the moment it is filled with the geraniums over-wintering in here. But I have plans for it!
Even Clara our barn cat has been drawn into this space. We’ve tried to get her to come into the house so many times with her brother, who is always to be found somewhere on a bed upstairs fast asleep. But Clara is not interested. She’s very sociable, she’ll purr away and loves nothing better than being cuddled, but just not inside the house. The other day I saw her curled up in one of the garden trugs. I’ve now added a cushion for her as I suspect this is her new hideout! I’m not surprised it is often warm and flooded with sunshine.
And just a word about reusing things. The old armoire at the back, which had seen better days is used as shelving for all the gardening bits and bobs. The table is made from its two doors.
Old terracotta pots, live on our vintage French bottle rack, they’ve been washed and are ready for new compost and new plants in the spring. Perhaps this really is what is meant by the simple life bringing contentment.