You wouldn’t guess it if you came to our house and met us, but my wife and I are bursting with pride at the transformation we have made to the abandoned and rotting farmhouse we bought two and a half years ago. This makes us hypersensitive to any criticism, however, and guests are advised not to imagine for a second that we want an honest opinion when we ask what they think of the place. (Please note: ‘wow – breathtaking’ is the only acceptable answer.) Unfortunately, we have now been living here long enough three months to recognise all too plainly for ourselves the mistakes we made during the first phase of restoration.
Take the main bathroom, that seductive and extravagant vision of white marble, long sparkling mirrors and moody lighting. It is a dream of luxury except that whenever we step out of the bath, we have to tiptoe naked and dripping across the carpet to grab the nearest towel: we foolishly had the heated rail fixed to the far side of the room.
Or take the window seat stretching elegantly around three walls of our breakfast room. Ideal, until you settle down here for a meal and find you are an infuriating four inches higher than anyone sitting opposite you on the chairs set around the other side of the table. An easy solution might be to plonk small children on the window seat and grown-ups on the chairs, but for the fact that the window seat has brand-new fitted cushions covered in pretty putty-coloured stripes. One spillage of Bolognese sauce would spell death to the fabric.
The very worst decisions we made were to do with electronics. ‘I presume you want your house computer-networked so you can use your laptop in every room without plugging it in?’ asked the project manager when we were drawing up the original ‘spec’ for the builders. ‘No way,’ spluttered my wife and I. ‘What a total waste of money.’
And how we congratulated ourselves on this choice a year later, when internet-link systems came on the market that did away with the need to hardwire your house for connectivity. Now all you have to have is a single cheap base station with a stubby little radio antenna. Except, that is, if you live in an old house like ours with walls 6ft thick in places and as impervious to radio waves as the concrete tomb built to contain leaks from the Chernobyl reactor. So we are faced with having two separate subscriptions to internet service-providers, or else having to bore holes for wires through our immaculately painted-and-plastered walls.
We have been living here just long enough, too, to discover that our house and its setting provoke wildly differing reactions in visitors. ‘Did you ever think of buying anything a little grander?’ enquired one guest, a City banker, disillusioned to discover that a house which dares to call itself a ‘manor’ bears no relation in scale or significance to, say, the Rothschilds’ Waddesdon Manor.
However, another friend seemed rather too impressed by our pocket farm, all of 60 acres. He turned to me as we got back to the house from a stroll around the fields and asked in all seriousness: ‘Have you chosen your estate colour yet?’ I think he will be invited again.