"If you look around you," says Kirstie Allsopp, in that familiar cut-glass accent, "every single thing is second-hand." She proudly points out the cupboard that nobody else wanted at auction and the high chairs found at the side of the road — "you just give them a good wash." We are sitting in the kitchen of Allsopp's lovely west London home to talk about Meadowgate, her house in north Devon, the "doing up" of which has been the focus of a television series, and now a book, Kirstie's Homemade Home (Hodder, October).
Allsopp, with her large dark eyes and porcelain skin, is instantly recognisable from her 10-year reign as the co-presenter of the hit Channel 4 property shows "Location, Location, Location" and "Relocation, Relocation" and seems every bit as warm and friendly as she does on the telly. All those years in and out of properties, and of seeing the same mass-produced furniture, has influenced her new book: "It's not so much that you see the same stuff, because there's a limited number of shops, but you go into houses and you think:'Did this person just land on this planet five years ago? Where is that dark ugly thing that they were left by their grandmother that is actually really good once repainted?'... It's extraordinary the amount of times you go into houses and there's no history or provenance or anything. It's almost like we're denying where we come from and who we are."
The TV series came about because although Allsop had been trying to persuade Andrew Jackson (commissioning editor at Channel 4) to do something that focused on crafts "for a long time" it wasn't until Meadowgate, which was bought at auction in mid-summer 2008, that they found what she calls "the right hook". The house, uninhabited for almost four decades, provided the perfect blank canvas for an interiors series. It was developed in November 2008, began filming in January 2009 and the first series transmitted in April last year (the second series is due to be shown this autumn) — an incredibly quick turnround.
Planned from the start
A book was planned from the very beginning although Allsopp struggled to fit in the actual writing around her other filming commitments until she went away with Lisa McCann, a producer on the TV series, for a few days to chat through her ideas. This collaborative effort "we just went back and forward with it" has resulted in one of the book's key strengths — it's unmistakeably Allsopp's voice, intimate, chatty, ever-so-slightly bossy, as in the first section she guides you through the rooms at Meadowbank and expounds her (very practical) ideas about interior design. There's a very "green" emphasis throughout on reusing and recycling, something Allsopp is passionate about: "It's really hard to say this without sounding lecturey but we're trying a little bit to say look, we chuck so much stuff out. If you don't want something find someone who does. And if you do want something, is it not available second-hand?"
Endearingly, throughout the book she's very careful not to position herself as any sort of interiors expert, frequently explaining to the reader that she tried such-and-such but it didn't quite work. Honesty, she says, is very important to her, "I would never lie, or try to produce something that wasn't real." This is, she says, why she is happy to do interviews at home, is honest about the levels of childcare she has and hasn't "tried to change the way I talk or the way I look". "I think that's as important in this book as it is in any other place because you can't expect people to trust you if you're not honest. I'm saying to people 'this is what I believe'. Not 'do it this way' but 'you could do it this way'. If this was a fabrication of the TV company, if the house was a set, if the book was written by someone else... you'd be really living a lie."
Inspired by guests
Inspired by the British crafts — people who featured on the TV programme, Kirstie's Homemade Home also contains lots of practical DIY projects with instructions ranging from the very simple — a lavender bag, to the more challenging — gilding glass using silver leaf. She's very keen on encouraging people "to do more with their hands" as it gives such a sense of achievement. In the introduction she mentions she was never the "arty one" at school. With an interior decorator mother and a father (former chairman of Christie's) who she describes as "a talented artist", she says she didn't think of herself as creative: "Of course, looking back on my career, I see [that] finding houses for people, and suggesting what they do with those houses, is as creative as anything else. [Knowing how to] maximise the light and space of a property, I just never acknowledged that that was creative until I started working on this show."
Ultimately though Allsopp wants us to have confidence in our own taste. "I think the most important thing — beyond anything else and any kind of airy fairy ideas of mine — is that you love your home and that your home makes you happy."
- Karen Thompson Walker | "I did want to try to write a book that if I heard about it, I would want to read"
- Charlie Higson | "I wanted to write something really scary for kids in the horror vein"
- Sean Taylor & Hannah Shaw | "I like my stories to have a bit of fierceness in them, that's down to my taste, but I know it's also something that interests children."
- Martha Long | "I Was born to provide; writing was the first time I had done something for myself"
- Jennie Rooney | "I would like to write a contemporary novel, but I don’t think it is there yet"