I’ve always loved big old houses. Houses with high ceilings, a multitude of rooms with varying purposes, a chandelier dangling from a ceiling rose. Where the furniture is mahogany or dark oak, a clock ticks loudly and no matter what the noise levels outside, the moment you close the door there is absolute silence due to thick old solidly built walls. Just like that, whatever is happening in the outside world is gone. I really get the concept of an Englishman and his Castle.
For this, I lay squarely the blame upon my grandmother, who herself lived alone in a large one at Monkseaton that always seemed to me to be an old 1800s farmhouse with some Arts and Crafts Edwardian remodelling done, then ran her own business in another – a huge, imposing Victorian double-fronted nursing home in the centre of Newcastle. My sister and I loved visiting that one, what could be more fun than sitting in the pantry with the staff, while one of us popped off into one of the other rooms to press the old servants bell, so the other could watch it ring on a board and know instantly which room we were in? Very Downton Abbey. I assume it all went in a skip, since my Dad told us the buyer stripped it all out and converted it into cheap bedsits. Sad.
Therein lies my predilection for old houses over new. I am aware that there are two camps when it comes to buying and living in a house – for some, modernity prevails and the newer the better both house and contents. New does not always equal better quality though, not for me. From the very beginning of my own house buying adventures, back in Brighton in 1994, I would even say to estate agents “nothing after 1939”, knowing this would exclude the era when bricks turned to breezeblocks, air-dried timber constructions became kiln-dried or worse, chipboard and ceilings shrank from 10 feet to 8 (or less). I did quite well with that house, buying a 3 bedroom 1926 end of terrace. Some asked at the time why I was bothering with such a big house on my own even then, but to me the extra rooms and space is a necessity. Both psychologically and for the items I tend to accumulate.
After that, came an 1895 3-storey Victorian classic in Sittingbourne, Kent. This one was definitely more in the mould of my dreams, even if it was done out in the style influences of 1980s TV. Dallas ranch-style staircase instead of Victorian and weird arches linking rooms that should really have remained separate. That separateness was restored, as were period fireplaces and mahogany floorboards. I remember the first time I viewed this place and already there was a difference of opinion – I really liked it, my partner was not convinced at all. It took a second viewing a month later, after seeing the other lesser offerings around to agree this was the best choice. Sadly, I was never truly happy there – I lost my job in the city, so the planned commute never occurred and in the back of my mind the promise to leave the UK was ever large. Still, living in a Victorian house with the Victorian park next door had a certain positive lifestyle element to it. Two of my happiest memories of my oldest children (who despite being Danish passport holders were born in the UK) are here. My eldest daughter with her independent “Do it self” attitude to the park climbing frame and my son, skidding around the corners on his scooter. I still have that scooter in the loft, it’s one of the things I shall retain until the inevitable final house clearout.
Then onto Montana. Actually, there isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t been said on the website about the house itself. So why not just read it there?
If a house shows a soul or spirit, then Montana shows me. For a start, every single one of those rooms was decorated by me. It took a long time, but I think my Dad would be proud, even if I do not have the diverse range of DIY skills he had. There’s also the things I had lost, but then rediscovered – family heirlooms of low financial value but of incalculable value, shunted into dark corners of the house, not to be seen again. My sisters told me that when they visited, it was noticeable how my things inside the house were gradually less with each visit, but now it’s all me. The phrase in with the old and out with the new has returned. I eat my dinner from old English tableware, the same as I did back in Brighton in 1995 (I wish I’d kept my grandmothers old ones though). I drink tea from old English teacups, brewed in an old English teapot. The coffee machine is almost purely ornamental. Oh and those awful continental square pillows have gone. I sleep much better for it.
Interestingly, I have moved 3 times in my life and each time, bought a house twice the size of the previous one for less than I sold the previous one for. I doubt I’ll achieve the same again and besides, the statistic is misleading (not everything that can be counted counts, remember?). Montana has been the most expensive house. Now everything is done and all the accounting takes place. It really has.